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Brunswick School Board: Incumbent Watson faces District 1 challenge

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Brunswick School Board: Incumbent Watson faces District 1 challenge

BRUNSWICK — Only one of the three School Board seats up for grabs this November is contested.

Incumbent Byron Watson takes on Rich Ellis in District 1. Brenda Clough in District 2 and incumbent Janet Connors in District 6 are both unopposed.

District 1
Rich Ellis

Ellis, 42, moved to Brunswick as an infant after his father was stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station. He grew up in Navy housing near Cooks Corner and graduated from Brunswick High School. He currently lives on Adams Road with his wife, Jill, and their two young children.

He is a senior Web marketing manager at Wright Express in South Portland and has not held any previous elected positions.

Ellis said he is not a politician and has no aspirations for a higher office, and that he was motivated to run because he wants to do better for Brunswick's children and taxpayers.

Ellis said there is not enough forward-thinking about the budget and that he would like to see the School Department plan two to three years out when putting together budgets.

"We need to do a better job working with our state delegation and pushing the agenda forward to get the state back to 55 percent (general purpose aid)," he said, noting that last year the state provided Brunswick only 38 percent of its budget.

"That gap is killing us," Ellis said.

Ellis said the schools should not plan on low enrollment numbers for long, because he believes the Cooks Corner area will soon be filling up with young families.

He said youth athletics are an important part of a well-rounded program, but that they should not be excluded from a close examination of expenditures in the budget process. He emphasized that nothing should be off the table.

"I do believe freshman sports are part of a well-rounded education," Ellis said. "We do make a strong and reasonable investment in our athletics program, but we need to be open-minded with the budget process."

Ellis said Watson's inappropriate e-mail to House Speaker Hannah Pingree last spring, which resulted in the School Board stripping Watson of his position as chairman, is not the primary reason he is running, but that it influenced his decision.

"What concerned me as a citizen was how Mr. Watson reacted after it was made public," he said. "The town needs clear and composed leadership. There certainly could have been an apology, he could have taken responsibility. That didn't happen."

Ellis said the town needs people on the School Board who can focus on the task at hand and work closely with others, and that he would listen to the citizens and get things done.

Byron Watson

Watson, 31, was elected to the board in 2007 and has lived in Brunswick his entire life. He has worked on several political campaigns, including working for Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in 1994 and 2001. He has a 22-month-old daughter and is an underwriter for Patriot Insurance.

Watson said when he ran in 2007 his goal was reigning in what he called  "irresponsible spending that has plagued the School Department for decades."

"I'm proud we've put an end to this fiscal irresponsibility," Watson said. "Now it's time to make it permanent."

Watson said he would like to look into merit-based raises for teachers. He said the schools need to stop using scare tactics and that they must support extra-curricular activities. Watson said he was the lone member of the board who campaigned to retain freshman sports at Brunswick High School.

"All the extra-curricular activities in Brunswick are top-notch and need to stay that way to help develop the future character of our community," he said.

Watson said he is tired of his district "being treated like the armpit of Brunswick."

"We need quality for the children of east Brunswick," he said.

Watson said he does not believe there will be fallout from the e-mail he sent to Pingree, which called her "the most gorgeous member of the Legislature."

"I think there was a smear campaign," he said. "I've had a lot of support from other legislators, councilors, friends and family. I haven't received one negative phone call."

Districts 2, 6

Clough, who is running uncontested in District 2, has a master's degree in special education and more than 30 years of teaching and school administrative experience in Maine and New Hampshire. She has served as the union representative for her fellow teaching faculty and was once the acting academic dean of a community college. If elected, this will be her first elected public service position.

Connors, who is running uncontested in District 6, is a retired teacher. She has served for 13 years on the School Board and has been chairwoman of the building committee, co-chaired the elementary space needs committee, is on the policy and adult education committees and has been the chairwoman of the Vocational Region 10 board. She, her husband and three adult children all graduated from Brunswick High School.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net