Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 22, 2018
Three seek to fill two school board seats
by Anne Berleant
Voters will choose among three candidates, including one incumbent, for two open school board seats in town elections.
In other elections, Mary Alice Hurvitt seeks to fill one of three open planning board seats, with no other candidates stepping forward. Selectman Vaughn Leach seeks his third, three-year term and incumbent Bill Cousins seeks another two-year term as road commissioner.
Election day is Friday, April 6. Polls open at 10 a.m. at town hall and close at 8 p.m.
The following candidates are running for the two school board seats.
Tina Allen moved to Blue Hill in 1992 from the Portland area. She and her husband own Downeast Properties and are former owners of Fairwinds Florist and Downeast Vacation Rentals. She seeks to serve on the board as a way to contribute to her community in an area she cares about.
“I care about the school, the kids, and education,” she said. “I’m invested in this community. I think everybody gives in their own way, and I feel this is what I can do right now. I think I have a good understanding of both the financial side and the education side, which is important.”
Looking five years ahead, Allen said she thinks the student population will continue to grow as a shift in technology allows people to live here and work remotely.
“I see a lot more young people moving [here] with their families because they want the quality of life here,” she said. “The school is growing, and how are we going to adjust to that? It’s going to make our tax payer base grow and hopefully that will help in supporting the change.”
Allen said the board’s main role is to balance the needs of the school with the needs of the community. “People don’t want to see their taxes go up and at the same time, education is important. It’s finding that balance”
Allen has served on the board of the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, led its youth group and Christian Education, and also served on the board of the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. She attended Husson University and the University of Maine at Augusta, and has two sons at George Stevens Academy, with the older graduating this spring.
A Maine native who moved to Blue Hill in 2002, Gray is banking center manager and a retail lending officer for Camden National Bank in Blue Hill. Gray is currently on the board of the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, served one term on the town budget committee, and collaborates with other local organizations on specific events.
“I’m always looking for an opportunity to support our community, to help with its health and vitality,” she said. “I feel being on the school board is a great way to show my support.”
Gray’s ties within the community and her finance background are among what she can offer the board, she said.
“We’ve got a strong school, we’ve got a successful school,” she said.
In five years, “I will still have a child in the school. I think [the school] will be focusing on the things we’re doing great and be willing to work through any challenges.”
Gray said a high board priority is the annual school budget, and the board can be “a sounding board” for challenges the students and faculty may face in the future.
While increasing enrollment is “a testament to what a great school we have and families wanting to bring their children into our school,” Gray said she would need more background information to address its effects on the budget and building space.
After attending a recent school board meting, Gray said she was struck by how “the board all works together. The one goal is, how do we make our school better? [The meeting] kind of solidified why I want to become a board member for the school.”
Gray graduated from Temple Christian Center in Ellsworth, is married and has with one daughter enrolled at Blue Hill Consolidated School.
After serving six terms on the Blue Hill school board, Ben Wootten seeks a seventh term to continue work the board is in the midst of. But the biggest reason is because he feels it is important for the board to be experienced.
“There’s an awful lot to be said for having knowledge and how things work. It takes a long time to acquire,” he said, noting that one current member is in her first year. “Two new members at once makes the board not as effective as it could be.”
Wootten’s biggest concern looking ahead is increasing enrollment “The school has been growing gently over 10 years…we’re at 270 [students] which is pretty close to capacity, ” he said. And because the school is not on town-owned land, it “can’t expand beyond its footprint.” He advocates making contingency plans, like buying land so the school could expand in the future.
“It’s an issue that should be addressed. We should be talking about it. The town is growing, the school is growing, “ he said, adding that the current renovations are doing well at upgrading the school facility and repurposing space.
Wootten said he sees the board’s most important roles as providing two-way communication between citizens and the school, “to some extent insulating one from the other and being a sounding board for both,” along with the board bringing forward ideas from the staff and also redirecting them at times.
Another challenge is “coming to terms with the changing curriculum and the change in [state-mandated] standards. “It’s huge, it’s really tough,” he said.
Wootten also recently proposed a more efficient budget process by forming a two-member committee to work on the budget before bringing it to the full board, which the board approved.
An investment manager with Wind River Capital Management in Ellsworth, Wootten moved to Blue Hill in 1949, enrolled in BHCS for first grade, and has also served on the George Stevens Academy board. He is married, with grandchildren attending the school.