Five candidates are running to represent Saco on the Regional School Unit 23 Board of Directors, although the positions will not exist if the city votes Nov. 5 to leave the district.
The two candidates elected to serve four-year terms will only be seated if the withdrawal vote fails and Saco stays in the district it formed with Dayton and Old Orchard Beach. If the city does withdraw, a separate election will be held to choose a Saco School Board.
Incumbents Kevin Lafortune and Daniel Cabral faces challenges from David Labbe, Margarita Zavala and Stanley Mozden.
Lafortune, 46, has been on the RSU 23 board since 2012.
“Since I’ve been on the board I’ve distanced myself from the folks I replaced as someone who is not afraid to ask questions or bring up a topic that is difficult,” he said.
Lafortune said he supports withdrawing from the RSU because the communities didn’t fit together well. If Saco does not withdraw, Lafortune said he would focus on equalizing resources and class sizes across the district, an issue he feels has been brushed under the rug for too long. He would run for the Saco School Board if withdrawal is approved.
Cabral, 49, has represented Saco on its own school board then the RSU board since 2004. He does not support withdrawal and would not run for a new local school board in a second election.
“It’s too bad the way the discourse has gone from focusing on students to the elitist attitude that has come out in the last year,” he said. “I think if the withdrawal doesn’t go through, they’re going to need board members who haven’t been ripping Old Orchard Beach.”
If he is elected to another term, Cabral said the focus needs to shift off of withdrawal and back onto how to address school needs, especially at Young School, which needs to be replaced.
David Labbe, 43, is a political newcomer who said he was motivated to run because he felt his voice was not being heard by school officials. He supports withdrawal because the RSU “has failed miserably.”
“When the RSU law mandated that communities get together under the threat of penalties, it created a situation where … you have two communities butting heads and fighting for scarce resources.”
If Saco does not withdraw, Labbe said he would turn his attention to “difficult conversations about what’s fair and sustainable to both students and the taxpayers.” He said that could include looking at whether to close one of the Old Orchard Beach school buildings.
Zavala, an adjunct faculty member at Central Maine Community College, said she wants to add to the board her expertise as an educator. She supports withdrawal because she does not believe education for Saco students has improved under the RSU structure.
“Another reason I’m running for school board is because of Saco’s rising taxes,” she said. “As a member of Saco Citizens for Sensible Taxes, I not only want students to get the best education possible, but I want that education delivered at a cost that is affordable and fair to taxpayers.”
Mozden did not respond to requests for information.