A recent University of Southern Maine graduate is facing a supervisor in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in the race to represent District 5 on the Portland Board of Public Education.

Anthony Emerson. Submitted photo

Anthony Emerson, 25, grew up in Portland, graduated from USM last year and currently works as a cashier and a freelance journalist for the sports uniform blog Uni Watch.

Jeffrey Irish, 45, is a supervisor in DHHS’s Division of Support, Enforcement and Recovery who also grew up in Portland, spent seven years in the military and lived and worked in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Maine in 2010.

The two men are vying on Nov. 3 for the District 5 seat to replace Marnie Morrione, who is not seeking re-election. District 5 includes parts of Deering Center, North Deering and Riverton. The term is for three years.

Emerson, an alumnus of Deering High School, said he decided to run for school board out of concern during the pandemic for students with special needs and the faculty and staff who work with them.

“I wanted to make sure they had access to crucial therapies safely, whether that’s speech and language therapy, physical therapy or occupational therapy,” said Emerson, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism.


“All of those things are necessary. For many families, they can’t afford to get those therapies outside the public school system. That was my biggest concern: Who is going to stand up for our special needs students and who will stand up for our special needs therapists and faculty?”

If elected, Emerson said, the issues he hopes to address include increasing the diversity of faculty and staff to better reflect the student body of Portland Public Schools, and working to incorporate LGBTQ history into school curriculum.

“As a queer person I think we should include LGBT history in the curriculum,” Emerson said. “I graduated high school in 2013 and there was basically no mention of LGBT history at all. I think that’s a crucial component of American history and America’s story.”

Jeffrey Irish. Submitted photo

Irish, who is an alumnus of Portland High School, said he has always followed the school budget process and decided to get involved this year because of the debate over school resource officers, or SRO’s, in schools.

“It’s not that I was pro or against SRO’s, I was just against the process that took place,” Irish said. “When I found out Ms. Morrione was not going to step in for re-election, I thought it would be a good chance to fulfill public service and be involved.”

Irish said he supported an amendment to the SRO resolution proposed by member Sarah Thompson and called on the district to study the efficacy of officers in schools while renewing their contract for another year. The board instead passed a resolution that terminated the district’s contract with Portland police.

Irish said while there are a myriad of issues that need to be addressed, it will be hard to look at anything else without first addressing the pandemic and its budget implications.

“I think there’s going to be a significant budget issue that will change quite a few things,” Irish said. “From my perspective everyone wants their hand in the pot and I get that. We want to change some educational programming. The superintendent is geared up towards perhaps consolidating schools, which I would not recommend. I don’t think decisions that drastically affect a fragile school structure should be made until we get a better idea of what the ’21 budget is going to look like.”

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