Siblings challenge Portland School Board incumbents

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PORTLAND — All three School Board members whose terms are expiring are seeking re-election in November.

So far, two of them have potential challengers in a pair of brother-and-sister candidates.

Nominating petitions became available June 30. As of July 24, several candidates have taken out papers, which cannot be returned before Aug. 11.

Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson, of 83 Starbird Road, has taken out papers for re-election to her at-large seat. Thompson, who has been on the board since 2006, is seeking a fourth term.

Paul Okot, of 50 Illsley St., said he has taken out papers to oppose Thompson because he knows “what it is like to be a young, refugee person in Portland, attending both public and private schools.”

“I believe that this gives me a unique perspective with which to understand Portland’s diverse educational needs,” Okot, a first-time candidate for public office, said via email.

District 1 incumbent Jenna Vendil, of 38 Vesper St., has taken out papers for her third term. She could be challenged by Paul Okot’s sister, Josephine Okot, of 34 Danforth St., who has also taken out nomination papers.

The District 1 race could be the most competitive, after Vendil was arrested for operating under the influence on June 27 in Scarborough. She publicly acknowledged the arrest at a July 7 School Board meeting, and is scheduled to appear in court the morning of July 29.

Josephine Okot ran unsuccessfully for School Board in 2011. She and Paul Okot immigrated from Sudan.

Josephine Okot said she is running for School Board because she is a mother, not a politician. She noted several planks she ran on in 2011, including “having mentoring programs for children that are falling behind their education goals,” taking on bullying, and increasing the number of teacher aids in classrooms.

“I want to make change in my community, and to let every (child) know that we care about their education goals because they are our last, best hope,” Okot said.

Incumbent Holly Seeliger, of 303 Brackett St., has taken out papers for a second, three-year term in District 2 seat. As of July 24 she had no potential challengers.

Nomination papers can be obtained from the city clerk’s office at City Hall, 389 Congress St. Papers must be returned to the city clerk’s office no later than Aug. 25 at 4:30 p.m. At-large candidates must obtain at least 300 signatures, but no more than 500, while district candidates needs at least 75 signatures and no more than 150.

District 1 covers the city’s East End on the Peninsula to High Street, and the Back Cove neighborhood east of Forest Avenue to Dartmouth Street. District 2 covers the West End of the Peninsula, and the neighborhood west of Forest Avenue, bounded by Dartmouth Street and Deering Avenue.

In addition to the three School Board seats, there are also elections for mayor; City Council District 1 and District 2, and an at-large council seat; Peaks Island Council, and Portland Water District Board of Trustees.

Polls will be open Nov. 3 from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Write-in candidates must declare themselves by Sept. 21, which is 45 days before the election.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or