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PORTLAND — The election for the School Board District 3 seat pits incumbent Laurie Davis against former state Senate and City Council candidate William Linnell.
There are also two School Board at-large seats on the ballot, but both races are uncontested. Anna Trevorrow is seeking her third term; political neophyte Roberto Rodriguez is running for the seat vacated by Pious Ali, who is running for City Council.
District 3 covers the southern and western part of the city from Libbytown to Stroudwater and the Portland International Jetport. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Davis, 64, of Oakdale Street, said she is running again because she cares about education and wants to provide stability on the board. She said since it is Superintendent Xavier Botana’s first year, and projects including construction of the new Fred P. Hall Elementary School are ongoing, it made sense to stay on. She cited her experience leading and serving on the finance, curriculum and operations committees.
“It seemed having some board stability made sense,” Davis said.
Davis, who is the executive director of TRIO Programs at the University of Southern Maine, has served on the board for six years. Before that, she served one year on the district’s Charter Commission. She also worked for 10 years as the Portland Public Schools’ No Child Left Behind coordinator.
Regarding a proposed $70.6 million bond that would replace four aging elementary schools in the district – Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche – Davis said she is pleased to see the City Council and board working together on an ad hoc committee formed to discuss renovations. She said when the board first sent their proposal to the City Council, she didn’t believe there would be enough votes on the council to pass the measure.
“I think we will get a better outcome coming from the ad hoc group,” she said.
Davis voted against recommending the proposal to the City Council in June, saying she wants to see the schools renovated, but wanted the conversation to include city councilors.
“The board can think whatever it wants, but we have to be in alignment with the City Council to actually get anything done,” she said.
She compared the conversation about renovations to creating the annual school budget. The budget process used to be a contentious issue between the council and board, which, Davis said, was due to a lack of dialogue between the two governing bodies. Now, the city and school finance committees work together during the budget process; that way the city finance committee understands where the school budget is coming from.
“I think our budget processes have gotten more collaborative, more program- driven,” she said.
Davis said her experience will also be beneficial when the district’s Comprehensive Plan is created. It will be “good to have someone who knows how we got to here and who has some thoughts and vision of where we can go from here.”
As part of the Comprehensive Plan, she said the district needs to continue to work towards advancing student achievement, ensure students are achieving at the highest levels and make sure all students graduate.
“We need to move all students’ achievement so they are prepared for whatever path they want after high school,” she said.
Davis said she is pleased with the national search the district conducted for superintendent, which utilized a consulting firm that helped bring Botana from Indiana to Maine.
“I’ve done two superintendent search processes. And they were different because the boards were different, the district was in a different place, but I feel very confident that this process was the right process for us and it yielded us a great candidate,” she said.
Linnell, 60, of Congress Street, said he is running for School Board because he is interested in politics. The semi-retired carpenter and lobsterman served on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council in the 1990s, and has run unsuccessfully for state Senate and City Council.
“So I think it’s important to get involved,” he said.
Linnell said what really inspired him to run was seeing the four elementary schools proposed for renovations. He said when he saw the condition of the buildings, he decided he had to do something.
Linnell said he is in favor of the proposed $70.6 million bond, and called it a huge issue that separated him from Davis, referencing her vote against recommending it to the council.
“To me there’s no question the schools need to be fixed, renovated, repaired,” Linnell said. He added he didn’t want to “spend money like a riverboat gambler,” and supports going out to bid to reduce the cost.
Linnell said when he was on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, a similar bond to replace a school came up, which he supported. As a result, the town created a facilities manager to oversee all town and school buildings, adding that creating a similar position could benefit Portland.
“I think it’s something to look into. I don’t have all the answers, but I certainly don’t mind asking a few questions,” he said.
When asked about the budget, Linnell said it will be something he’ll deal with if elected, but he does not want to go in telling people what to do.
“I think I need to be there,” he said. “There’s a lot of very sharp professionals in the school system, and they know what the priorities should be. So I would certainly listen to them.”
Linnell said one issue facing the district is substance abuse and, because he worked at the Long Creek Youth Development Center and the Day One teen substance abuse treatment program, his experience would bring a “valuable perspective.”
It is “an issue everywhere,” Linnell said, “and it’s certainly something that needs attention.”
When talking about the search for a new superintendent, Linnell said, “There is an exception to every rule.” He said he likes Botana, and called him “a keeper,” but would prefer the district “hire people closer to home.” He also said the district can spend thousands of dollars flying candidates to the district, flying board members to a candidate’s district, and then still have the position quickly turn over.
“I’m glad we have (Botana),” Linnell said. “In the future for any of those positions I would put more emphasis to try and find someone who’s local.”
Trevorrow, 34, is an assistant clerk for the Maine Superior Court who is seeking a second term. Trevorrow said she finds the work fulfilling, including projects such as school renovations and comprehensive planning she looks forward to continuing.
Rodriguez, 37, works as a physical therapist assistant, and has volunteered in various Portland Public Schools classrooms. He said he is running because he wants to help his community by playing an active role to strengthen the schools.