UPDATE: Brunswick School Board election headed to recount

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BRUNSWICK — A recount of the Nov. 4 School Board District 5 election is expected after official voting results showed incumbent James Grant with only a razor-thin lead over challenger Chris Watkinson. 

Official results released by the town clerk’s office show only a seven-vote difference between the two candidates, Grant’s 557 to Watkinson’s 550. 

The result is significantly closer than results initially reported Tuesday night, which gave grant a 35-vote lead over Watson, 431 to 396. Watkinson relied on those results when he conceded the election in a Facebook post hours after the initial results were reported.

On Friday, Watkinson said he has formally requested a recount.

“To me, that’s less than a 1 percent difference,” Watkinson said. “It would be irresponsible for me not to pursue a recount.”

Watkinson, who runs the Studinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College and is an adjunct professor there, was endorsed in the race by Brunswick Community United, a citizen’s group organized to support the school budget years ago. In previous years, BCU has thrown its political weight behind other candidate’s successful election bids.

Town Clerk Fran Smith said she hopes to organize a recount by Thursday, Nov. 13, the earliest that municipalities can recount votes under state law. 

The official results show that Grant, seeking his third term, was losing to Watkinson 430-395 after ballots cast at the polls on Tuesday were counted. The incumbent made up the difference in absentee ballots, winning 162 votes to Watkinson’s 119.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Watkinson said that despite the outcome of the recount, Grant should take that “resounding rejection of the School Board’s policies to heart.”

“Our community is severely divided on the policies being enacted in our school system and Mr. Grant should give pause to reconsider his posture on the clearly controversial issues and listen to his constituents – all of them, not just his 50 percent,” Watkinson said. 

In an interview Wednesday morning, Grant said he was pleased, but surprised by his victory in east Brunswick.

“I didn’t expect to win,” said Grant, who previously served on the board from 1992-2000. “I wasn’t able to campaign very much. I think the voters are pleased with the state of the schools and want us to continue the job we are doing.”

Grant said a discussion on school reconfiguration is “still on the table.” In May, the board voted to shift the town’s fifth grade to Brunswick Junior High School, a move that was met by dismay by some parents. 

Until recently, however, the board has not received any negative feedback about the reconfiguration plan, Grant said. 

“That doesn’t mean we don’t take a second look at it,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, everything is open for discussion, unless we’ve started down a course where it would not make sense to reverse direction.”

Activists were outside the polls Tuesday collecting signatures for a petition asking the board to reconsider the fifth-grade move.

Grant said the board should also try to increase school funding by discussing its priorities with the Town Council earlier in the budget process.

Sarah Singer, a BCU organizer, won an uncontested race for an seat representing District 7 on the board and incumbent William Thompson was re-elected to an at-large seat in an uncontested race.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter@mcguiremidcoast.

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