South Portland School Board race: Long-time incumbent v. long-time employee

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Chairman Rick Carter, seeking his fourth term on the School Board in District 1, is facing something new: an opponent.

Carter, 51, of 33 Thompson St., is opposed by Gene Swiger, 64, of 14 Boyd St., a longtime School Department maintenance staffer who retired in 2011.

Swiger, whose wife, Catherine, taught in city schools for 36 years, said his campaign is to give voice to School Department staff unhappy about the direction of the department.

“I’m a common-sense person and if I feel something isn’t quite right, I think it needs to be fixed,” Swiger said.

Carter, who works in retail management, said he wants to serve again because there are things he still wants to accomplish.

“I have had the honor and privilege to serve for nine years, but there is more to be done and I want to be a part of it,” he said.

District 1 comprises the eastern portion of the city, including Willard Square and portions of Ferry Village, but the election is city-wide, without party affiliation.

Also on the ballot are the District 2 and at-large seats held by incumbents Sara Goldberg and Mary House, both of whom are unopposed. All School Board seats are for three-year terms.

Swiger, the father of two grown children, is making his first run for office. Carter, who is married to Karen Carter and has two grown sons, lost by two votes to Michael Pock last March in the City Council District 1 election.

Swiger said the School Department is not paying enough attention to students who may not be on a track for college, but still need to develop job skills.

“I think by cutting programs and classes for students who may want to go into trades, you are taking away choice from the students,” he said.

He also criticized budget decisions to keep administrators, while teaching positions and programs are cut.

Carter said his emphasis will remain the same if elected.

“Everything we do as a board should be based on student achievement,” he said. “There are areas we succeed in and areas of opportunities.”

Swiger said he thinks there is a morale problem within the department.

“I don’t think the citizenry gets the whole picture of how the schools are operating. I feel the true picture is not there,” he said.

Carter, who counts the annual welcome-back breakfast as one of the highlights of the year, did not share a perception of an overall morale problem and said having eight schools in the city makes it look as though there are too many administrators.

Swiger and Carter agreed on the need to meet with City Councilors beyond budget season, with Swiger suggesting joint sessions on a monthly basis.

Carter said he remains worried about state budgetary adjustments on School Department finances in the next fiscal year, and said the School Board has made strides in showing councilors how tax dollars are spent.

“(Mayor) Tom Blake and I have made a concerted effort over the last year to make sure the information is shared,” he said. “They were not asking for anything we did not have, just something that was not immediately available.”

Carter said he supports amending the City Charter to include “taxpayer assumed debt” for school and municipal projects in the overall tax picture, so debt service for South Portland High School expansion or the proposed new Public Works facility do not become part of a future operating budget.

Swiger called for fiscal restraint and and sharing spending reductions when needed.

“I don’t feel just because there is $40 million in a budget, you need to spend it all,” he said. “I don’t agree with cutting programs and staff, and adding administrative staff. It should be fair and equitable.”

Election Day is Nov. 5; polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. District 1 voters cast ballots at the Boys & Girls Club, 169 Broadway; District 2 polling is at the American Legion Hall, 413 Broadway; District 3 and 4 residents vote at the Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, and District 5 residents vote at the Redbank Community Center on MacArthur Circle West.

Absentee ballots can be obtained online or at City Hall until 6:30 p.m. Oct. 31, and returned until 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. 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.