South Portland City Council takes over appointment of School Board member

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board has removed itself from the selection of an interim board member to represent District 5.

The vacancy was created when the current District 5 representative, Alan Livingston, was elected Nov. 2 to an at-large seat on the City Council.

The council has responsibility for filling vacant seats on the School Board, but in the past, it has routinely approved candidates nominated by the School Board without receiving or considering everyone who applied.

But this year, councilors will see the process through from start to finish.

The change comes a year after an appointment to a vacant District 3 School Board seat elicited criticism because of the school superintendent’s involvement.

As an employee of the board, the superintendent was perceived by some to have had a conflict of interest by helping to choose one of her bosses.

School Board Chairman Rick Carter said the panel is willing to offer its input this year, but will otherwise remain on the sidelines since there is no established procedure for picking appointees. Authority in the City Charter is simply given to the council, he said.

“A year ago, when people were unhappy with that situation, we asked for a defined process then, and we still don’t have one,”Carter said. “The board certainly would be happy to be part of the process once it’s defined.”

City Manager Jim Gailey said councilors will review applications from candidates at a Dec. 13 workshop, with the aim of appointing someone by Dec. 20.

The city began advertising for the open school seat about two weeks ago, setting a Nov. 25 deadline for letters of interest to the city clerk.

City Clerk Sue Mooney said she has received two letters: one from past candidate Tappan Fitzgerald and another from Burton Edwards, a former board member and current part-time employee of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. 

However, Edwards on Thursday said he is withdrawing from consideration because city employees are prohibited from holding elected office in South Portland.

“I wasn’t sure who was going to put their name forward,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure somebody did. And I was concerned with who might.”

Fitzgerald ran for the District 5 seat in 2009 and received more than 4,100 votes, but was defeated by Livingston by 13 votes.

He is the community relations manager at Hannaford Bros. Co., where he has worked for 25 years. The 42-year-old has two children in public schools and has been a member of the Skillin Parent Teacher Association for about 10 years. He also served on the school redistricting committee.

Fitzgerald said he seeks the opportunity to help the district in the coming years, which he expects will be challenging.

With a $41.5 million bond recently passed by voters to renovate the high school and a potential middle school consolidation on the horizon, Fitzgerald said he expects there will be more pressure to keep operating costs – and the tax rate – low.

“I really think the budget process (the board) is about to get into is going to be one of the most aggressive and most examined budget processes that the South Portland School Department has ever gone through,” he said, noting the need for “equitable and sound” decisions.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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