WESTBROOK —  This year will be the first time longtime School Committee incumbents Veronica Bates and James Violette have faced competition for their seats.

Kristen Beahm was chosen at the Republican caucus Sept. 4 to vie for Bates’ Ward 2 seat. Bates has been on the committee since 2011.

Challenging Violette for his Ward 5 seat, which he has held since 2010, is Beth Schultz, a former high school administrator in the Biddeford, Bonny Eagle and Gray-New Gloucester school systems.

Also on the School Committee ballot Nov. 6 is Steve Berry, running unopposed for his Ward 1 seat, and Suzanne Salisbury, who is the only one in the running for the At Large seat, a post she had from 2007 to 2017. Republicans didn’t nominate anyone to run for those positions.

If reelected, Bates said she would like to continue her work to create a budget that meets the needs of the students while keeping the tax increases to residents in mind.

“It’s really hard to balance a budget where you are trying to meet the needs of the students while being cognizant to the fact wherever you come in at the end of the day is going to have a very real impact to taxpayers,” Bates said.

Violette and Schultz said taxpayer impact would lessen if the state was paying 55 percent of the cost for education, a mandate handed down by the voters in 2004. Violette said if the state were to meet that obligation, “it would be a great relief to the taxpayers of Westbrook.”

“The voters sent a strong message to do that and it hasn’t been done. We need state funding and the state needs to step up to that obligation,” Schultz said.

Bates, chairman of the school Finance Committee, said as part of that role she urges school administration to be thoughtful in the new programs or initiatives they propose.

“They need to come to the table with some solid rationale and data regarding any (increased spending). We don’t approve things willy-nilly. We look into them,” Bates said.

Schultz said increases in spending need to be “very transparent (and) fully vetted.”

“We need to hear from all stakeholders in the city and there needs to be clear communication about the needs for the increase,” Shultz said.

Beahm said one area she would like to see more money allocated is for those students and their families who may be dealing with poverty issues.

“I would like to see us collaborate more with Gorham and Windham schools and other local schools to see how they are spending money (for students in need),” she said.

Beahm said she also would like to see more of an investment is technology and classroom materials.

Bates and Violette said improving the security at the high school remains a top priority of the School Committee, an area of focus Schultz and Beahm agree with.

“In the Saccarappa design, security has been addressed. In the middle school, we feel pretty confident security issues have pretty well been taken care of. We have put $235,000 aside for upgrades at the high school. That is not going to meet all the needs, but it is a beginning. The high school is the most sensitive facility when it comes to safety issues,” Violette said.

Bates said a Maine Education Association seminar on school safety and security she attended earlier this year reaffirmed Westbrook “was taking the right steps.”

Schultz said a safe school environment helps both teachers and students.

“Students can’t learn and teachers can’t teach unless a building is safe and the classrooms are safe,” she said.

Addressing security in the schools also is a top priority for Beahm, one that goes beyond the buildings.

“Everyone thinks about physical security, but we need to also think about walking to school, the parking lots, waiting for the bus. There is a lot of safety issues you need to look at,” she said.

Investing in better meeting the social and emotional needs of students is also another area of investment for the school district and something all four school board candidates see as a worthy investment.

It is important to take action to make sure larger issues don’t arise, Bates said.

“I am much more interested in dealing with the symptoms before they become an issue,” Bates said.

A new social worker was added at the high school for this school year, something that Beahm said is “very much needed at the high school level,” not just for students, but for staff as well.

Violette said more investment, however, is needed.

“Some students do struggle and we need to be proactive and provide services for these students,” Violette said.

Schultz said addressing the social and emotional needs of students doesn’t just mean providing more money for services. It also means “thinking innovatively, creatively and outside the box to see how to utilize the resources we have.”

This spring, in the midst of lingering contract renegotiation, many of Westbrook’s teachers joined forces through the Westbrook Education Association to raise awareness about teacher compensation.

Negotiations broke down when it came to providing teachers enough time to prepare for classroom instruction. The school board’s negotiation committee felt planning time, as an educational policy, cannot be negotiated through labor contracts, a position reinforced by the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Violette said the concern of teachers, particularly those at the elementary school level, not having enough preparation time has been addressed through the current budget. By introducing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to the elementary schools and having two teachers focus on that instruction, regular classroom teachers can use that time to preparation/planning.

“Now we are able to give all of the elementary school teachers that fifth planning time. Education policy can be addressed, but it needs to be addressed as a budgetary item,” Violette said.

Bates said if she could she would allocate more money to teachers because she feels they are “absolutely not” compensated enough. Increasing compensation for teachers, however, is a balancing act between that and what taxpayers can afford.

“I am in the schools all the time. I understand how difficult it is to put lesson plans together, teach and make time to help those students who need additional help,” Bates said.

As someone in higher education, Beahm said she feels educators should be better compensated, especially for the things they do that “are above and beyond what’s in their contract.”

Beahm said she didn’t have any ideas at this point as to where to fund additional funding, but may this spring when the fiscal 2020 budget is deliberated.

“It’s a matter of sitting down and looking at the budget,” she said.

After a long career in education, Schultz said she is a “strong advocate for teachers” and for giving them the time and resources to not only prepare lesson plans, but also to review student assessment results and use those findings to guide classroom instruction.

Teachers, Schultz said, play a key role in educating the workforce and decision makers of the future and they need the recognition that what they are doing is different, and more complicated, than education just five years ago.

“The classroom has changed dramatically,” she said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Age: 50

Residence: 11 Lawrence St.

Party Affiliation: Republican

Family: Divorced, two sons

Occupation: Assistant director of academic assessment, University of Southern Maine

Education: Master’s degreee in education from Southern New Hampshire University

Political/civic experience: Professional staff senate at the University of Southern Maine, deacon and Sunday school teacher at Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church

Website: None

Age: 45

Residence: 450 Saco St.

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Family: Husband, daughter

Occupation: Retired

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from the University of Maine at Orono

Political/civic experience: Westbrook School Committee since 2011, board member of My Place Teen Center, past president of Kiwanis Club of Westbrook, member of Westbrook Communities That Care, co-founder of the high school and middle school food pantries

Website: facebook.com/Veronica Bates for Westbrook School Committee Ward 2

Age: 58

Residence: 7 Crestwood Drive

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Family: Married, three children

Occupation: Financial planner

Political/civic experience: Former member of Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, City Council, recycling committee, middle school reuse committee; school board member since 2010; board member of METRO and board member of VNA Home Health and Hospice

Website: None

Age: 68

Address: 97 Brydon Way

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Family: Married, two sons, two stepsons, stepdaughter, seven grandchildren

Occupation: Retired high school administrator and teacher

Education: Master’s degree in special education from Lesley University and certificate of advanced studies in educational leadership, University of Southern Maine

Political/civic experience: canvasser for Democratic candidates, member of March Forth political reform advocacy group, former chairman of personnel committee for First Parish Church in Portland, former chairman of church council at Brunswick Unitarian Universalist Church

Website: facebook.com/schultzwestbrook

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