Yarmouth School Committee candidates back budget, possible renovations

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YARMOUTH — There are three School Committee seats up for graps in the June 12 municipal election, and four candidates competing for them.

Terms are expiring for Chairwoman Jeanne Rapone and members Laura Coroi and Tim Wheaton. Coroi is seeking re-election to a second, three-year term, and is opposed by Jeffrey Kew, Newell Augur and Kate Barker Shub.

Voting Tuesday, June 12, at the Amvets Hall, 148 North Road.

Coroi, 54, has lived in Yarmouth for 12 years. She said she decided to run for re-election because serving on the board has shown her how important it is to not only advocate for her children, but for all families, while being “respectful of the taxpayers’ money.”

Augur, 51, has never run for office in Yarmouth after moving to town five years ago. He served on Brunswick’s Town Council from 2005-2008.

Kew, 48, moved back to Maine from Connecticut two years ago. This is his first time seeking elected office, although he served on a charter revision commission and in several school volunteer positions in Connecticut.

He has children in first and third grades and said he wants what’s best for all kids in town and all of Yarmouth, including residents without kids in schools.

Kew said he thinks being “from away” could be an asset to the School Committee.

“I saw things that worked and didn’t work,” he said. “I think it’s good to have a diversity of experience on any board.”

On the other hand, Barker Shub, 37, is a Yarmouth native. She has also never run for an elected office, but said she loves to volunteer in town.

“I look forward to bringing my voice as a Yarmouth native to the group,” she said. “… I’m running because I love this town and these schools … I’m so proud to be from Yarmouth and raising my family here.”

Augur is a product of public schools in southern Maine. He attended Deering High School, and his mother was a teacher in Portland for 20 years.

“I have three kids,” he said. “… We’re fully invested in the Yarmouth public school system.”

All four candidates support the School Committee’s proposed $25 million budget and agreed the biggest challenge facing the School Department and its finances is a reduction in state funding while facing an increase in student enrollment.

“The town’s taxpayers are picking up the lion’s share of that cost and that’s a difficult balance. … The School Committee did a great job under very difficult circumstances,” Augur said.

“It’s a thing of finding the balance between making sure we take care of the kids’ education, but not overburden the taxpayers,” Kew said. “There needs to be a sensible compromise. We can’t always get everything we want.”

Enrollment projections, Coroi said, said put a strain on resources, which is why the community needs to seriously consider the renovation and expansion of the schools, which may go to a bond vote in November.

Each candidate also spoke in favor of the potential renovations.

“It’s a lot of money and we are all going to pay, but we need to do it,” Coroi said, noting that the School Department is considering adding a portable classroom at Rowe Elementary School next year.

“Our schools are bursting at the seems and we must do something,” Barker Shub said. Since she graduated, she noted, grade sizes have doubled at Yarmouth Elementary School, but the facility looks the same.

In terms of something he’d like to see in the budget that wasn’t included, Kew said it’s important not to ask for too much when a school renovation bond may be coming down the pike in the next six months.

Coroi said her “project” on the School Committee has long been introducing foreign languages at a younger age. With this year’s budget strains, it couldn’t be included, but she hopes to keep working at it if re-elected.

“It is my big thing,” she said. “If I get another term I would like to see this implemented and I would push for it. … We are behind if we don’t do this.”

Augur and Kew also said they would like to see increased foreign-language opportunities. Augur said this could be accomplished by implementing language courses sooner, or by expanding the options at the high school, perhaps adding German and Japanese classes.

Augur noted, however, that he wouldn’t put foreign languages ahead of other priorities.

All candidates said the school renovation project would also be a good time to explore how security can be upgraded.

Augur and Coroi said they’d like to see the district focus more on the mental health of students. Coroi referred specifically to Jan. 29, when a 13-year-old student at Harrison Middle School died by suicide.

“It was an eye-opener,” she said. Her daughter is also a middle school student and she said the two girls were friends.

“Academics are important,” Coroi said, “but to have an emotionally healthy child I think is so much more challenging.”

Augur said school safety could first be improved from a state level, but in terms of improving safety as a town, he, like Coroi, would also like to see the schools focus on mental health.

“There are only so many locks we can put on the door before we really start having to look at mental-health issues,” Augur said. “I think that’s the most significant thing … so we can spot these mental breakdowns before they happen.”

Coroi said she’d be in favor of the School Committee considering hiring a school resource officer, which the department doesn’t have.

Barker Shub said she would “absolutely support” an SRO and would like to see renovation plans incorporate improved security.

Kew said he doesn’t have a firm opinion on how to improve school safety. While part of him feels like the district should consider an SRO, he said he has concerns about turning schools “into fortresses.”

“I don’t want our kids to have to live in fear,” he said. “I’d really like to focus our money on academics … or maybe on social workers. If I’m going to be looking at SROs, I’d also like to be looking at options like social workers.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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