PORTLAND — There are three open seats and three candidates for Portland School Board this fall.
Marnie Morrione is the only incumbent. She’s seeking re-election to the District 5 seat, while newcomers Timothy Atkinson and Mark Balfantz are running for the District 4 seat and one at-large seat, respectively.
The District 4 seat was vacated by Stephanie Hatzenbuehler in September because she was moving out of state; John Eder, who held the at-large seat, decided not to seek re-election.
Early voting is now open and polling places will be open across the city 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Atkinson, 35, is a software engineer with two young children. His daughter started kindergarten at Longfellow Elementary School this fall.
Atkinson said he’s running for the School Board, “because I believe fully in the power of public schools to transform lives and communities.”
“My wife teaches kindergarten and has worked in elementary education for over a decade. I have profound respect and admiration for the work she and her fellow educators engage in daily,” Atkinson said.
As a member of the School Board, “I want to ensure that every single student is given the support they need to discover and pursue their passion and that they feel valued, respected and engaged fully and equally,” he added.
When asked about the school bond questions that are also on the ballot, Atkinson is “strongly in favor” of Question 3, which calls for bonding $64.2 million for substantial renovation and upgrades at Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools.
“I am very excited to engage in the process of rebuilding our four neighborhood elementary schools and to ensure that it is done properly with an eye toward future needs and maintenance,” he said.
“Our students, educators and staff deserve safe environments that reflect our community’s fundamental commitment to education. That we (might) leave Longfellow and Reiche out because they are in the worst shape of the four I find absolutely unconscionable,” Atkinson said.
Balfantz, 39, is a lawyer at a firm in the Old Port and is also a veteran, having served in the Marine Corps for 10 years from 2005-15.
He has two children, but neither are yet school age.
Balfantz said he’s running for the School Board because “I’m dedicated to serving the community and I have a vested interest in improving the schools for my children.”
Balfantz said one reason he left the Marine Corps was to ensure that his children had a place to call home.
“My wife, Anna, and I didn’t want to just live in Portland, we wanted to be active members of the community,” he said. “And being on the School Board is great way to serve the community in an active way.”
Plus, since his own children will be attending the Portland Public Schools in a few years, “I want the schools to be the best they can be,” Balfantz said. “The School Board is making decisions now that will affect my children the entire time they are in the schools, so I want to help make those decisions.”
While he supports the four-school bond, he also believes the effort to upgrade the elementary schools is only “a Band-Aid (and) a short-term fix.”
“We need a plan that dedicates money to maintaining our schools and we need a long-term term, sustainable plan for our (future) school infrastructure,” he said.
However, Balfantz also likes “having our walkable, neighborhood schools,” so is not advocating for consolidation.
Morrione, 48, is just completing her ninth year on the School Board. During that time she headed up the search for a new superintendent and has also chaired the curriculum, facilities and policy committees.
In addition, she was the co-chair with Mayor Ethan Strimling of the school facilities task force, which ended up recommending the $64 million bond to fix four of the city’s elementary schools.
“I have felt very privileged to serve Portland Public Schools,” she said, adding that she’s also “a proud product of public education.”
Morrione has a master’s degree in international economics from Johns Hopkins University and she and her husband have two boys in high school.
“I am absolutely, 100 percent in favor of the four-school bond,” she said. “I’ve worked on this too long not to see it pass.”
“In the coming years, I am excited and hopeful to see the four schools rebuilt, to strengthen board and district governance, and improve accountability to Portland taxpayers and its students,” Morrione said.
“Portland should be known not only for its arts, restaurants and shopping, but also for the best schools and education.”