2013-10-18 / Community News

Three candidates vie for two school board seats

Incumbent John Cole and challengers Jane Leng and Jodi Shea are vying for two 3-year terms on the Scarborough Board of Education. The election will be held from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 5 at Scarborough High School. Absentee ballots are available through the Town Clerk’s office. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Name: John Cole

Age: 60

Address: 40 Arbor View Lane

Family: Married, have five adult children, three grandchildren and expecting fourth in October Native Mainer, lived in Connecticut for number of years before returning to raise our family in Maine

Prior political experience: School Board — seeking third term, chairman of long range planning for six years, chairman of Sports Done Right committee, member of policy committee for six years

Volunteer/community involvement: Town related: Served on Conservation Commission for five years, coached youth and high school wrestling, member of wrestling boosters. Statewide: retired high school and college wrestling official, partnerships in various capacities with Maine Principals Association, director for Maine Wrestling Hall of Fame, donated time, money and expertise to many state and national non-profits

Why are you running for office:

When starting a journey, it’s a good idea to finish. This is how I feel about being a member of the school board. We are on a journey as a town and as families. Our town had been through a lot of change in the recent past with challenges not seen in over 70 years. At times these felt insurmountable.

With a relatively new administrative and leadership in place a few years ago and a new community vision, our schools are staged to meet those challenges. I want to be part of the solution. I want to help, enable our teachers and students for success in a financially balanced and responsible fashion. Twice over the past two years our community shared their vision with our leadership and the community feedback has been embraced. These visions are now drivers for our school system.

Furthermore for me being on the board is about our stakeholders being heard, being good listeners and understanding everyone’s needs. It’s this type of relationship and collaboration I encourage our board members, administrators, staff, students, parents and all our town residents. In summary, being witness to our young people embracing challenges on their journey for success is the outcome I strive to support. It is all about our kids and, for me, it shall remain all about our kids. Let’s get on with building a well-balanced, responsible, caring, physically and morally fit youth and young adults as they ready to enter our communities and workforce.

The school budget is always a contentious issue. That proved to be especially true this year. What could be done to improve the budget process, so that residents have the information needed to make an informed decision?

Every person who desires to make an informed decision needs regular, simple and timely information communicated in the format that fits their needs:

Establish methods to ensure the budget message is effective in reaching our voting audience, such as ensuring we are using all media and technologies to communication our budget messages

Clearly explain and communicate on a regular basis the benefits and impacts for each recovery of program initiative and benefits derived from each.

Clearly communicate on a regular basis the 18-month improvement strategy and goals in simplest ways possible.

Clearly explain and communicate on a regular basis student-needs based budget and essential level-services budget and benefits derived from each and the impact of not implementing.

Clearly explain and communicate on a regular basis Leadership Council objectives.

Re-identify our stakeholders some of which are retirees, families with kids in school, families with no kids in our schools, businesses, boosters, and community groups such as Lions and Kiwanis. For these stakeholders, hold small group panel discussions where the feedback is looped back to our board and administration for consideration.

Build more enduring partnerships and collaboration with our school board and town council and administration.

Consider options such as a reserve to buffer our budgeting process from state funding (general purpose aid) to avoid the surprises and unexpected funding challenges that occur at the state level that, in turn, causes volatility in our budgeting process. It’s the wide swings year over year that is causing challenges and detracts our administrators from doing the real work of educating and running our town. By smoothing out the wide swings should provide stability, predictability and improve revenue and expense controls, which will help ensure our voters are informed and make the best decision possible on all of our behalf.

Name: Jane Leng

Age: 43

Address: 11 Abigail Way

Family: Yaojian Leng (husband), Alec Leng (son, 13), Charlie Leng (son, 10)

Prior political experience: testified against public education funding cuts at a public hearing in front of Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, and Education and Cultural Affairs Committee of Maine Legislature on March 18; testified in favor of raising lodging taxes to fund education and alleviate property tax burden for our residents at a public hearing in front of Joint Standing Committee on Taxation of Maine Legislature on April 26; testified numerous times in front of Scarborough Town Council and Scarborough Board of Education in support of school budget in 2013 and in 2010.

Volunteer/community involvement: volunteer at Eight Corners as reading parent (2009-2010); volunteer at Wentworth Library (2010-current); math parent at Wentworth (2012-2013); treasurer for Wentworth PTO (2012-2013); volunteered and coordinated events such as literature night and teacher appreciation events at Wentworth; founder and manager of Facebook community group Scarborough for Academic Excellence

Why are you running for office: (250 words)

I’m running for the school board because I want to ensure Scarborough continues to provide quality education for our children, through strong schools that prepare them for productive careers, while we exercise financial prudence and build a strong community.

As an Asian immigrant, ensuring quality education for our children is not only a cultural value, but also a personal one. My husband and I lived through the journey of having our lives transformed from poverty to prosperity through education. As a parent, I treasure the preciousness of young lives. We need to nourish their minds while they are growing, so they will gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to reach their full potential. I have the passion to be a positive force in the education of our children in Scarborough. My understanding of the challenges our children face in the flattening world, my keen awareness of the uniqueness of every child, my knowledge in curriculum of different school levels, and my attitude as life-long learner will help me to serve the children well.

As a financial analyst, my expertise in finance and accounting will serve the citizen of Scarborough well. Financial resources are always going to be scarce for everyone. It is imperative to efficiently use our resources in order to achieve our mission of education and to better serve our community. Overseeing a $38 million budget, the school board will benefit from having someone with a finance background. I would like to contribute my skills to look out for all taxpayers of Scarborough.

The school budget is always a contentious issue. That proved to be especially true this year. What could be done to improve the budget process, so that residents have the information needed to make an informed decision?

I think the budget process could be improved by increasing communication with the public through more open and engaging channels. There is no reason why we cannot use the media, such as the Scarborough Leader, which reaches 9,000 homes, to disseminate information in regards to the budget when it’s first proposed in March. We can provide summaries, direct people to online resources and hold forums. Open letters, question and answer sections in the Leader can give citizens information and time to educate themselves to make a sound choice. A transparent and engaging process might not guarantee a non-contentious budget. But when it’s time to vote, we can at least be sure the process has been fair to all.

We also need to remind people that the school district has to have a working budget for the administrators to starting planning for the next school year. A failed budget has to be adjusted and voted again, until we have a working one. One does have to go to vote every time in order to have his/her voice heard. If the voters’ turn-out changes, it’s going to affect the outcome. But this is the democratic process. Unfortunately, it seems to be a lose-or-win situation, even though it shouldn’t be. When the budget reaches the voter, it has been given careful consideration by the school board and the town council, who are trying to serve the best interest of the town. We all win when the town prospers.

Name: Jodi Shea

Age: 39

Address: 23 Windsor Pines Drive

Family: Kevin, husband, 9-year-old daughter Riley, 5-year-old son Benjamin

Prior political experience: none

Volunteer/ community involvement: Founding member of Scarborough Education Foundation currently serving as vice president, director of Race2thePoint 5K Run/Walk to benefit the Scarborough primary schools, previously served as president and vice president of the Scarborough Primary PTA, and currently serving as Blue Point School’s volunteer coordinator.

Why are you running for office: I strongly believe that the school board needs to work towards balancing traditional learning with innovative ideas. Our students need to be prepared for an ever-changing and challenging landscape. This requires a candidate with a forward-thinking mindset, who is capable of proposing fiscally responsible ideas and who can encourage community involvement from all members of our community. The education of our students needs to continue to be our priority, and I feel my experiences and passion for our school system makes me an excellent candidate for the school board.

The school budget is always a contentious issue. That proved to be especially true this year. What could be done to improve the budget process, so that residents have the information needed to make an informed decision?

A budget process, at any level, is always a difficult matter, as you are trying to balance the needs of all those involved. Our school budget, whose cost affects those in town with children in the system, as well as those without, can be a particularly challenging task. Communication in this process is critical. Citizens need to be well informed of the facts and figures, which make up our overall town budget, the school budget being a part of that process. Participation is also vital. Ensuring citizens are aware of the various meetings and venues in which they can make their opinions known is also very important. Utilizing various social networks and taking advantage of our town website are both low cost, high reach methods of informing our citizens. In addition, as a school board member, I would make myself more available and visible outside of normal board meeting times during budget season. I feel conducting informal ‘town hall’ meetings or ‘lunch and learns’ at various locations and times would provide citizens with a greater degree of accessibility to budget information and get their questions answered so they can ultimately make an informed decision. Communication and participation are both equally important in making the budget process less contentious and more productive.

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