Scarborough School Board candidates promise to communicate

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SCARBOROUGH — Clarity is a cause for each of the three candidates for two seats on the Board of Education.

Incumbent John Cole, of 40 Arbor View Lane, is seeking his third term on the board. Also in the race are political newcomers Jane Leng, 43, of 11 Abigail Way, and Jodi Shea, 39, of 23 Windsor Pines Drive.

One seat was left open with the June resignation of Aymie Hardesty.

Each seat has a three-year term and campaigns are run without party affiliations. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the gym at Scarborough High School on Nov. 5. Absentee ballots are available through Oct. 31 at Town Hall, 259 U.S. Route 1, or online at the town website.

Married to Veryl Cole and a father of five grown children, Cole has grandchildren in local schools. He is a software developer for UNUM.

“I want to see kids succeed, I want to be part of that,” he said. “I want to be part of a board that sees the goals we set forth accomplished.”

Leng and Shea each have children attending town schools and have served with local parent teacher organizations. Shea is a founder and board member of the Scarborough Education Foundation, which provides grants to teachers.

Leng and her husband, Yaojian Leng, have lived in Scarborough since 2009. She grew up in eastern China and emigrated to America in 1990. She earned a Master of Finance degree from Texas A&M University before staying at home to raise her two children.

Shea, married to Kevin Shea, is a South Portland native who moved back to Maine from Connecticut and chose Scarborough, she said, for its quality of education. She manages a Kennebunkport art gallery for Art Collector Maine, which promotes local artists.

Leng promised to bring her financial expertise to the board while communicating as proactively as possible.

“I like people to know I am financially savvy – I definitely don’t like to see resources get wasted,” Leng said.

After actively advocating in 2010 for the education budget, Leng stayed on the sidelines for a couple of years. As a New Year’s resolution, she said, she became more engaged this year, speaking frequently at council and board meetings in favor of restoring academic programming.

Her candidacy was not part of the resolution, she said, but came after she helped organize support for the $39 million education budget that was cut by Town Councilors in June, rejected by voters two weeks later, and finally passed in a second referendum with $54,000 removed.

Additional state subsidies allocated to pay staff pension obligations and reduce the local property tax rate were approved for use in an August referendum.

Shea said the initial rejection of the education budget should not be seen as a vote against educating children, as much as a statement against property tax increases. She, Cole and Leng agree the School Board needs to take more formal and informal steps to keep residents aware of the budget process and what is going on in local schools.

Cole and Shea said monthly meetings at local coffee shops are a good first step. Cole added that verbal communication is only a first step.

“We need a way to reach out to every resident, find out their ways of preferred communication for timely and repeated messages that keep things simple,” he said.

Improved science and technological learning and applications are primary goals for all three candidates. Leng said she would like to add the science, math, engineering and technology curriculum incorporated in a STEM program at the high school. Cole said he would like to see “one-to-one” computer availability in the high school. Shea said better integration of existing technology and future needs would achieve a great deal.

“Kids these days are already functioning in technology better than we were or our parents were,” she said.

Shea and Cole would also advocate for reintroducing foreign-language instruction before middle school.

Leng said she would like to be on the School Board curriculum committee while reaching out for more volunteers to help in classes and with writing grant applications.

Shea said her work on the education foundation exposed how much need there is in classrooms because of tight budgets, but said finding a grant writer would help teachers seeking financial help because it could be done on a wider scale and maximize the benefit.

Cole, who said education budgets will continue to increase just because of the fixed costs alone, agreed getting grants is critical, but cautioned the benefits can be tempered if the School Department needs to eventually absorb the costs after a grant has expired.

The working relationship with Town Councilors has improved in his tenure, Cole said, but all three pledged clarity and comprehensive explanations about education issues while they also considered the wider perspective of municipal government.

“It is a big budget, a huge amount of money and it is my job to remain open minded,” Shea said. “I represent the entire town. There are people on fixed incomes, and it is giant expense.”

Cole said the explanations must also show how budget changes in Augusta can lead to local property tax increases just to maintain services and programs. He also advocated establishing reserve funds to soften state aid fluctuations.

“The bottom line is, the things that really upset people, especially administrators, is when state is so unpredictable and volatile in what they give us,” Cole said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.