SACO — Voters in wards 2, 4 and 6 will elect members to the Saco School Board on Nov. 3.

Ward 2 candidates for one, three-year term are Anna McCard, Joshua Parks and Jennifer Preble; incumbent Lynn Leary is not seeking re-election. Ward 4 candidates for one, three-year term are Kevin Lafortune, Michael Vitiello, and incumbent Stephen Shiman. In Ward 6, candidate Sarah Truman is unopposed; incumbent Stanley Mozden is not seeking re-election.

The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier asked candidates in the contested races questions about themselves and on issues. Shiman, the Ward 4 incumbent, did not respond to email or a phone message.

WARD TWO:

• Anna McCard, 31, is a service specialist and has a degree in business administration. She is a member of Saco Main Street, the Saco Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and is secretary of the Gov. John Fairfield School PTO. She likes yoga, reading and exploring Maine with her three children.

Anna McCard, Ward 2

McCard praised teachers and staff for their “amazing job” in welcoming students and supporting parents while they adapt to hybrid and at-home learning during the pandemic.

McCard said the administration at the top — the superintendent — “hasn’t been transparent and clear regarding the planning, budgeting, and communications regarding returning to school. This has created an opportunity for improvement.”

“Current administration is an issue, and we will need to find an excellent candidate we can trust that is cognizant of the budget while supporting educators and students,” she said when asked the school board’s biggest challenge. “Once that’s resolved, the next focus is budgeting and planning appropriately so that we are spending money where it counts most to support children and our wonderful teachers.”

“Working with the resources already available, and finding creative ways to save money at the school without requiring additional funds from taxpayers,” will help create a balance between service needs and keep property taxes at a reasonable level, she said. “Proper research and planning will allow buffers to avoid straining the community when unexpected expenses occur. ”

McCard said she would collaborate with other city departments “so that everyone is doing their best to support all children and staff.”

“I will ask the tough questions, communicate clearly and thoughtfully, and be very transparent about the budgeting process if I’m presented with the opportunity,” she said.

• Parks, 27, is a direct support professional studying political science and human services at Southern Maine Community College, where he is president of the student senate, and was previously treasurer and public relations director. He is a former board member of Speaking Up for Us.

Joshua Parks, Ward 2

Parks said Saco schools should have committed to remote learning, rather than the hybrid model. “If we spent the summer fine tuning this method and configuring a way to provide families with food that would otherwise be disbursed in the schools, we would be better off for the impending winter months,” he said.

“The enormous amount of work it will take to properly balance the best interests of the students within our schools, while considering taxes,” is the school board’s biggest challenge, said Parks. “I’ve always been a consensus builder though, and I will weigh every factor before voting.”

He said keeping property taxes at a reasonable rate while providing necessary services “will require a concerted effort on the part of the City Council and the School Board to come together and hash out a long-term plan.” He said he often hears taxes are far too high, considering the state of the city’s schools.

“I want to work with the superintendent and School Board to figure out how to mitigate bullying within our schools,” he said of his goals. “Bullying affects mental health, academic performance and attendance. If we address this issue, we can help our schools perform at the levels we all know they can.”

• Preble, 36, is director of social services at a nursing home and has a degree in social work. Married, she has two children, plays saxophone in the Alumni Band, and enjoys other musical pursuits.

Jennifer Preble, Ward 2

Preble said she isn’t satisfied with the school district’s response to COVID-19.

“The school administration has not done an adequate job providing the resources they need to keep our children safe,” said Preble. “Orders were placed late, delaying items needed. The district can do better by providing resources timely to the schools. If we anticipated items being back ordered, (and) air quality testing being delayed, the administration should have planned ahead instead of scrambling at the last minute.”

She said the board’s biggest challenge is a lack of transparent communication in the community, and pledged a reversal, through policy initiatives or a change in central office leadership. She said residents need to hear good and bad information to make decisions.

“In my time as a social worker I’ve found hundreds of ways to help people get the services they need and found a way to pay for it,” she said of balancing school needs and a reasonable tax rate.”We need to make sure make sure we maintain a strategic budget. For example, we will spend $300,000 a year in rent for one grade of Pre-K at the Toddle Inn, but won’t have enough supplies, space or staffing for when those Pre-K students get to K-2.”

She said she believes her goals of  a workable budget, open communication, and accountable leadership can be accomplished. “The superintendent needs individuals on the board to hold him accountable to transparent communication and proper fiscal planning,” Preble said.

WARD FOUR:

• Lafortune, 53, is an application architect at IDEXX, Inc. and has an economics degree. Married with two adult children, he previously served on the School Board, and was its chair from 2013 to 2015. He enjoys cycling, hiking and skiing.

Kevin Lafortune, Ward 4

“I think Saco school administration should have been better prepared for what everyone else saw coming — a mix of in person and remote learning, social distancing, and the need to address air quality concerns in all of our buildings,” said Lafortune. “Instead, that preparation seems to have waited until the last possible moment, forcing a mad scramble that bled into the first few weeks of school. Preparation for the return to school should have begun in March. The school department should have anticipated certain needs and planned accordingly.”

Lafortune said the biggest challenge facing the board is restoring trust in school leadership.

“There has been a significant decline in transparency over the last several years,” he said. “The public and to some extent the School Board have been left out the decision-making process.”

Lafortune said balance between needs and property taxes is achieved by being realistic.

“The Saco School Board and current superintendent have not demonstrated that restraint for several years,” Lafortune said. “A number of new, non-mandated initiatives were started with no available space and no concrete way to pay for them. The theory behind those decisions was that the money would eventually be reimbursed through subsidy but this was never validated. The subsidy never arrived, leading to large budget gaps that were passed along to taxpayers.”

Lafortune wants to improve transparency and restart facilities planning.

“Transparency means improved oversight of the school department and district level communication related to those activities,” said Lafortune. “It is critical that the Saco School Department devote time to planning current and future facilities needs. Space is one of our biggest issues yet there has been almost no effort spent on this topic other than getting on the state funding list.”

• Vitiello, 52, is the administrator at  York County Jail and has a criminal justice degree. Married, he has twin sons. He is a member of  Biddeford Saco Country Club and Camp Ellis Rod & Gun Club, and he enjoys golf and family bike rides.

He said Saco schools appeared to be running behind other districts in its response to coronavirus.

Michael Vitiello, Ward 4

“When speaking to parents, I heard concerns that there was not enough information about Saco’s response to the coronavirus being disseminated to them in a timely fashion,” said Vitiello. “While I support the decision to delay the opening of schools this year because the district was not ready, I have questions about what decisions were made and what steps could have been taken to allow us to be prepared to open on time.”

He said the School Board needs to evaluate the best way to educate students in the current hybrid learning model.

“What should we be doing to supplement the remote instruction to ensure that our students are meeting or exceeding the required education benchmarks?” he asked. “We need to ensure that there is continuity between programs and learning expectations across each grade level and as our students move from one building to the next, including the important transition from the middle school to Thornton Academy. Ultimately, we need to assess whether or not there are other educational opportunities that may better serve the interests and learning styles of our students.”

As to balancing needs and property taxes, Vitiello said the board has a responsibility to advocate for the resources necessary to provide the best education for all students. “We also have an obligation to our community members to honor and respect their ability to pay their property taxes,” he said. “Balancing services versus taxes requires a strong partnership with the City of Saco to eliminate any duplication of services and to leverage the existing infrastructure of the city to the benefit of our students.”

Vitiello said his goals include strengthening the relationship and increasing the level of communication between Saco schools and the community.

“Parents have expressed concerns to me that they do not find out information in a timely manner which impacts their children,” he said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: