CAPE ELIZABETH – Three candidates are vying Nov. 4 to fill two seats on the Cape Elizabeth School Board.

Retired school superintendent Barbara Powers is up against School Board incumbents Elizabeth Scifres and Joanna Morrissey. The two available positions are for three-year terms.

Barbara Powers

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired school superintendent for Falmouth schools

Political Experience: None

Q: Why are you running?

A: I retired this past spring after 34 years in education (18 years in Cape Elizabeth and 16 years in Falmouth) so that I could commit more time to my family, friends, and personal interests, and to offer volunteer service to my own community of Cape Elizabeth. I have often thought that bringing years of experience, knowledge and insight to our local School Board would be a logical next step and a way to continue my passion for educational excellence and equity. I ask great questions, have participated in several public presentations of the budget, know how to strategically invest important resources of time and money, have led accountability efforts regarding student learning for several years, and recognize the power of a high functioning board.

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing the Cape Elizabeth school district?

A: The three issues I’m going to discuss are clearly within the context of consideration, of a level of feasible resources from a community that funds its schools primarily through property taxes. Finances are an issue for every single school district in Maine, and Cape Elizabeth is certainly no exception, even though Cape residents have been generous and supportive of their outstanding schools.

1. Management of intensive new initiatives required by the Legislature and its agent, the Department of Education. We need to respect all that the schools and teachers have on their plates.

2. The need for greater transparency and strategic considerations in budget development, public access to proposed budget documents, and clear explanation of annual budget requests for all stakeholders. There needs to be a very clear “budget story” for public understanding and we need to be completely straightforward in how public monies are allocated and why.

3. Ensuring that robust program offerings are available for students in order for them to meet their individual learning needs. When various analyses of student learning are offered for public review, there should be an accompanying analysis of what the data tells us about the relative strengths and areas of growth we see as necessary for optimized learning opportunities for all of our students.

Q: Do you think Cape’s $23.2 million school budget is fair?

A: “Fair” must always be discussed contextually. Is it meeting the strategic and publicly accepted goals of the school system? Is both sensible and analytic oversight given to all spending? Are student needs being served when outcomes are assessed? When the budget is compared to similar districts, are all variables accounted for, including shared services with the town? I’m very interested in learning more about Cape’s budget and believe I am in a position to contribute significantly to careful analyses and prioritization of spending. It’s one of the most important aspects of having a strategic plan in place, as budgetary priorities should constantly be reflected within that plan.

Q: Cape Elizabeth schools have been granted a three-year extension to meet the proficiency-diploma requirements mandated by the state. What are your thoughts on this?

A: This is one initiative where a “take it slowly” approach makes a lot of sense to me. This is only one of three areas where significant change is occurring by legislative mandate, and much can be learned as other districts go through a compacted and intensive process of changing to a proficiency-based system. That said, the Department of Education also expects all districts granted an extension to meet rigorous progress benchmarks each year of the extension, and it will be important for Cape’s school leaders to careful plan for and chart that progress. This particular initiative is an upending of the way things have been done for many, many years and certainly within all of our lifetimes. The paradigm shift is a good one, but it cannot be accomplished without a lot of reflection, identification of clear learning targets, and ways to best instruct for proficiency.

Elizabeth Scifres

Age: 39

Occupation: Mother, varsity girls tennis coach at South Portland High School

Political Experience: Vice chairwoman of Cape Elizabeth School Board for one term

Q: Why are you running?

A: I am running for re-election for a variety of reasons. First, this work is good, honest work and the best way I can serve my community. Secondly, I see our schools as community schools, or a family, not just a public school district. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we take care of each other and work together. And lastly, I am running to see some initiatives through that I have been working on as a board member for the past three years. We have started some wonderful work, like our strategic plan, differentiation in the classroom, and Open Doors Studio summer program. I would like to work to see the full implementation and expansion of those programs. I also aspire to help our community see and hear more clearly what great work our educators are doing and invite all citizens to be a part of the process.

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing the Cape Elizabeth school district?

A: 1. Budget unknowns. Over the past three years, we have worked very carefully and strategically to create budgets that support the highest quality education while being mindful of the tax impact. The difficulty comes in the factors we cannot predict, such as state funding, state cuts and curtailments. Despite these wild card factors, I feel confident that we have planned carefully for the maintenance and upkeep of our buildings, and employ thoughtful, creative ways to overcome the funding unknowns.

2. Enrollment fluctuations. Changes in enrollment impact a small school system like Cape Elizabeth quite dramatically. The board is committed to our class size and teacher load guidelines that have been shown to be beneficial. The trick is accurately predicting year-to-year how many students we will have in each grade. Recently we have been in a pattern of declining enrollment, which necessitates tough decisions. Outside enrollment studies are valuable, but only when looked at together with our own local data.

3. Willingness to embrace growth and change. Systemic change is very, very difficult. We have a tradition of excellence and high expectations in Cape Elizabeth. It is hard to imagine that we can do that differently and better. But we can. Adding new programs and doing some things differently won’t bear instant success. Change is a slow, thoughtful process that can bring about meaningful, exciting results.

Q: Do you think Cape’s $23.2 million school budget is fair?

A: I do think the current school budget is fair. This community gives generously, through taxes and as well as volunteer organizations and enrichment foundations, to educate its young people. For every program we fund, every roof we repair, every teacher we hire, the board always thinks about the impact on the community. There are two goals in the budgeting process. First, we must keep our district moving forward, ever improving learning and empowering our students. At the same time we must bear in mind that with relatively few businesses in town, homeowners provide the majority of our revenue. I support and stand by the current budget as it accomplishes those two goals.

Q: Cape Elizabeth schools have been granted a three-year extension to meet the proficiency-diploma requirements mandated by the state. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I am delighted that we have been granted a three-year extension. This extra time will allow our school district to do this work carefully, and implement it in the best way for Cape Elizabeth. The state is only interested in proficiency-based diplomas for high school students, but we understand that there has to be a foundation and readiness for this. We don’t want to implement a rushed, high-school only system when we know we can build from elementary upward to create a local system this is right for Cape.

Joanna Morrissey

Age: 49

Occupation: Public Health Program Leader (21 Reasons)

Political Experience: Cape Elizabeth School Board, 2011-2014

Q: Why are you running?

A: I believe strongly in public service and participating in the Cape Elizabeth community. I have two in high school now and I am very proud to work for the school system that has nurtured them so well. In my first term as a School Board member we worked on a number of challenging initiatives, and I am excited to continue that work. I currently chair the committee overhauling our school policy manual – an important guide that needed refreshing based on the mission, vision and values, and our new strategic plan – and I am excited to see this project through to its completion. Work on the board is challenging, but I enjoy digging into issues and finding solutions and opportunities that benefit our students, families, faculty and our town.

I also have respect for the partners we have within the school and enjoy working closely with them. We are incredibly lucky to have a district filled with talented teachers and administrators dedicated to providing what is best for our students.

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing the Cape Elizabeth school district?

A: First, it is important to note we are in great shape and have a well-thought-of school system. As one example, Cape Elizabeth High School graduates are accepted into the top schools around the country and do well there. Our students consistently score above state and national averages in assessment testing, and are within the same ranges of our local comp schools. And we do this for an average of $10,727 per student, among the lowest in Cumberland County. This doesn’t happen without our talented and dedicated teachers, building principals, administrators, support staff, families and community. I am grateful for the support of all our children.

The biggest issues we face are not necessarily obstacles, but instead challenge us to think outside the proverbial box. In our case, many of the issues we face are from outside our control. These include Common Core Standards, Smarter Balance testing, updated SAT exam, charter schools, proficiency-based grading, differentiated instruction, updated system for teacher evaluations, and ever dwindling state and federal aid. Other challenges are brought on by meeting our own local hopes, dreams and needs such as our new Mission/Vision/Values, Strategic Plan and aging infrastructure. Some of these changes are for the better, some are an awful lot at once, and yet they all need to be addressed and navigated carefully.

Foremost in my mind is that all of this change threatens to take time away from our teacher’s classroom preparation and student one-on-one time. This is a critical area where I feel strongly that we need to provide our teachers with relevant support, training and technical assistance so as to keep our focus firmly on each child’s education.

Another issue thrust upon the district is the emergence of charter schools. Each student who enrolls in a charter school takes with them approximately $10,000 in local share, paid for with local property tax intended to support our local public schools. My goal is to continue to provide an excellent education within a supportive environment so families feel confident in sending their children to our schools. A large part of that formula is a nourishing environment where our children are happy, healthy, resilient and valued for who they are as individuals. I support efforts to create such an environment.

Q: Do you think Cape’s $23.2 million school budget is fair?

A: Yes, a $23.2 million school budget in a district our size is appropriate. The school board set out as its budget goals to meet the needs of students, move the district forward, and be mindful of the impact to taxpayers. The 2014-2015 school year budget of $23.2 million meets those standards. This 3 percent increase over the previous year delivered a host of services including: full day kindergarten for all, an additional ed tech at Pond Cove, and a .2 science position at the high school, additional co-curricular stipends for robotics and Special Olympics, increases to professional development to support changes listed earlier, and much, much more while at the same time paying for mandated increases in our share of retirement costs and other demands on our budget. We worked to remain within budget while continuing to provide excellence.

Q: Cape Elizabeth schools have been granted a three-year extension to meet the proficiency-diploma requirements mandated by the state. What are your thoughts on this?

A: As stated earlier, there are a number of issues our district is attempting to address all at once. Exercising the three-year extension option was the prudent thing to do. While the proficiency-based diploma requirements are mandated by the state at this time, we need to settle into new curriculum and instructional methods before taking on a new grading system as well. Again, we need to make sure our teachers are set up for success and not working under an avalanche of paperwork outside the classroom. This extension will allow us time for thoughtful and intentional implementation while we also settle into other new systems.


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