Yarmouth school candidates stress experience, service

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YARMOUTH — Experience and service are the key words used by the candidates for School Committee.

Four candidates – Susan Garrett, Craig Wolff, Tim Wheaton, and David Ray – are seeking three School Committee seats, for three years. It is the only contested local election on June 12.

Wolff is a federal prosecutor in Portland, Ray is a lawyer at Bernstein Shur in Portland, Wheaton is a marketing director at Unum and Garrett is an actress who teaches the performing arts.

Ray and Wolff are incumbent School Committee members, while Wheaton is seeking to return after three years away from office. Garrett is a political newcomer.

All four agree the School Committee is one of the best places to give back to the community, and all have children who are or have attended town schools.

In a town where the annual school budget comprises about 66 percent of local budget spending and about 70 percent of the the school budget goes to salaries and benefits, the candidates’ parental perspective is mixed by a common outlook for the entire tax base in town, each said.

Garrett, 51, vowed to scrutinize each line item on the budget and create more transparency and visibility for the curriculum used by students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Ray, 59, now chairman of the School Committee, said spending nine of the last 10 years on the committee gives him the experience and perspective to balance the needs of students with the burden on taxpayers. Should he win a fourth term, his service will coincide with his daughter’s 13-year journey through local schools.

“She is one of the reasons I am running again,” he said.

Wolff, 42, is seeking a second term and said he and his family moved to town because of the reputation of local schools.

“From a personal perspective, you want to see the system to be as good as possible, but we have a wider concern to keep track of town finances,” he said.

Wheaton, 50, was a School Committee member from 2003 to 2009 before local term limits prevented him from seeking a third term. He was twice committee chairman and is eager to return to office.

He said a priority in the immediate future is settling a new contract with teachers.

“This is where experience is extremely important. You need to work with them collaboratively and respectfully,” Wheaton said.

The four candidates said they are well aware of the reputation of local schools, but all worried about resting on laurels instead of preparing for a changing future.

“What I have heard is Yarmouth has a high-performing school system, but people want to be sure we are moving forward,” Wolff said.

Garrett said raising her family in Pennsylvania and New Jersey has provided perspective about local schools.

“I have always been asking myself, what is a good school? But I am not running to overhaul everything,” she said.

Ray said the School Department is well-positioned to work with new national Common Core assessment standards and has nicely embraced the digital age and how it affects learning.

“We direct policy and provide a vision, then let the schools be run by our administrators and teachers,” he said.

Wolff and Garrett stressed the need for more curriculum review, while Wheaton said getting the best value will always be critical.

“It is vitally important to pay attention to what techniques are effective learning instruments,” he said.

The four candidates said they encourage and want more public involvement in academic and financial questions the School Committee oversees.

Garrett said she envisions a district newsletter, perhaps online, to engage the public, while Wheaton, Ray and Wolff said they have been pleased by the amount of information already available at the district website.

Because revenues will continue to be squeezed by federal and state subsidy reductions and the declining property value of the Wyman Power Station on Cousins Island, each candidate said it will be important to squeeze the most from every tax dollar.

“I feel like everybody just complains all the time. I don’t want to just complain, I want to help,” Garrett said.

Uncontested elections

Voters will also select three town councilors and a Water District trustee in uncontested races on June 12.

Two council seats carry three-year terms and are sought by Energy Savers Committee member David Craig and Planning Board member James MacLeod. Local real estate agent Pat Thompson is seeking the one-year term created by the resignation of Councilor Tim Sanders.

Walter A. Anderson, a former Maine Geological Survey director, is running uncontested for the Water District seat.

The June 12 primary and local elections will be held 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Robert W. Boyd AMVETS Post No. 2 at 148 North Road.

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

Sidebar Elements


Susan Garrett

David Ray

Tim Wheaton

Craig Wolff

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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.