- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
CUMBERLAND — With two Cumberland seats up for grabs on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors, incumbent Mike Brown faces a challenge from Peter Bingham, who is stepping down from the Town Council, and political newcomer Jennifer Stewart.
Brown, appointed to the School Board in 2015 to fill a vacant seat, was elected to one full, three-year term, which expires this year. Gigi Sanchez, who served two terms from 2013-2019, is not running again, creating the second opening.
A candidates forum will be held at Town Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 30. A forum for candidates running for Town Council and state House District 45 will be held Tuesday, May 28, also at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Bingham has said he would serve no more than six years on any particular panel in order to maintain objectivity and allow for new members. He decided to move on from the Town Council after his term ends this year and seek a return to the School Board – where he previously spent four years as vice chairman and two as chairman.
While last year’s school budget process divided the School Board and Town Council – councilors adopted a resolution urging cuts to the school budget – this year’s deliberations demonstrated “really, really good progress,” Bingham said.
Thanks largely to the district receiving $11.8 million in state aid to education for fiscal year 2020 – a $961,000 increase over the current year – taxes to residents of the Cumberland-North Yarmouth district should be flat.
The two towns and SAD 51 have worked well together in recent months, to produce “the best session I’ve seen in 30 years,” Bingham said. “I want to keep that up.”
He said he expects a more cooperative approach in the way the towns and schools care for their facilities.
With SAD 51 building infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars, he said, the district should follow suit with other school systems and hire a person with an engineering background “to perhaps coordinate the maintenance to include both SAD and town facilities,” Bingham said.
He also wants to see continued discussions around instructional minutes, since he has heard from some parents that the district had too many early release days, meant to provide professional development time for teachers. The School Board has been reviewing the matter as part of its strategic planning process.
“We have 10% less instructional minutes than Yarmouth does,” Bingham said.
Brown, who moved to town in 1998, said he has “a certain thoughtfulness and a certain diligence in the approach that I take to issues that deal with the school district itself.”
Despite the contention that surrounded last year’s budget process, “I’ve been proud of the budget that has been put forth the last couple of years,” Brown said.
“To a large extent, that had as much to do with decreasing state subsidy as it did spending growth,” he said. “I actually felt as though the spending growth number was reasonable based upon what we were seeking to achieve, but the impact on the taxpayer was significant, and drew a lot of attention.”
That caused the School Board to take a more “holistic” look at achieving efficiencies, Brown said, crediting this year’s flat budget impact to the major state subsidy increase.
He noted that in the past decade, declining enrollment caused SAD 51 to close the Drowne Road and North Yarmouth Memorial schools. But student numbers are once again on the rise.
“We’re looking at a Mabel I. Wilson school that is functioning at this point beyond capacity,” Brown said. “We’re looking at a middle school that is really just teetering on the edge; it’s working, but I don’t think it can sustain much more growth.”
Stewart has three children between the ages of 9 and 14, all in SAD 51 schools, which inspired her to run for the board. Having spent 15 years in Cumberland, she said, “I feel I need to get involved, to help plan for the future of the schools.”
She said she brings to the table a strong financial background from more than 20 years as a certified public accountant, which can aid in the budgeting process.
Stewart said she supports this year’s proposed budget, and would like to be part of ongoing discussions regarding infrastructure and space needs, particularly at the Mabel I. Wilson and Greely Middle schools.
She said she wants to ensure “the kids still have a high quality of education, and that the (student-teacher ratios) stay the same,” as enrollment increases and the pre-kindergarten program begins this fall at the Wilson school.
Residence in Cumberland: Brook Road.
Family: Married, three children, three grandchildren.
Occupation: Retired financial executive.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from University of Rhode Island, MBA from University of Pennsylvania Wharton School.
Political/civic experience: School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors (1984-1990, 2002-2008), Town Council (1996-2002, 2013-2019), Planning Board (1991-1996, 2010-2013), Comprehensive Plan committees, past University of New England trustee, Lions Club member.
Residence in Cumberland: Mill Road.
Family: Married, two children.
Occupation: Cumberland County assistant facility director and safety coordinator.
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in business administration and economics, University of Southern Maine.
Political/civic experience: Cumberland Shellfish Commission (chairman); Cumberland Community Nursery School (former president); SAD 51 Board of Directors (vice chairman) and its Facilities Committee (co-chairman); Cumberland/North Yarmouth Lions Club.
Residence in Cumberland: Mayflower Drive.
Family: Married, three children.
Occupation: Certified public accountant.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting, University of Maine.
Political/civic experience: Portland Trails, Sebec Lake Association, Junior League of Maine.