News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 9, 2023
Write-ins win for Sedgwick school board
194 cast their votes

by Maggie White

Results are in for Sedgwick’s election and referendum, the voting for which took place on Friday, March 3. One hundred ninety-four votes were cast, which was an average turnout according to Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Reilly. (For reference, Sedgwick’s population was 1,196 as of the 2020 census).

Susan Ford, runing unopposed, garnered 176 votes and will be the select board’s newest member and first female in more than two decades. Selectman Colby Pert estimates that it was approximately the year 2000 when a woman last served on the board. Reilly, who began her tenure as town treasurer in 1990, has been elected for another term, with 188 votes.

As for the school board’s two open seats, Reilly said that the fact that two write-in candidates secured the majority for both the three-year and one-year seats was unexpected. “It was very unusual. People do occasionally write someone in, but this seemed to be a write-in campaign,” said Reilly, who also said that it was not something about which she was aware until after the election.

For the three-year seat, George (Allen) Cole came in at 113 votes while former school board chair Kelly Samperi secured 67 votes. For the one-year seat, Susan Webb received 109 votes while Jessica Valdez had 69. Both Cole and Webb are new to the school board.

Writing in the winners

Cole said that both he and Webb were approached by townspeople asking them to run for the school board. As for why he did not appear on the ballot, Cole said that when he went to take out papers, he found that he was a few days late for the January deadline. After that, it was a grassroots effort. “People called people and they called people and so on,” he said about how he came to win the majority for the three-year seat.

Now a real estate agent, Cole had a long career as an educator: he was school principal in Penobscot for 13 years as well as a teacher in Brooklin. But this is new territory.

“This is my first time serving a school on a board, my first time on that side of the table,” he said in a phone interview, “but I have a sense of what should and shouldn’t happen.”

While he did concede that the January controversy where the board overrode the recommendation of administrators and some students to allow parents to attend basketball practices played a role in his decision to pursue a board position, he’s interested in looking forward.

“I don’t want to be critical of anything that’s happened before. I’m just hoping that we can have a school committee that’s supportive of the staff and the administration and the students, but at the same time being aware of the limitations, financially, by the community,” said Cole.

Webb, whose term is for one-year, also has a teaching background. While she is originally from Sedgwick, she lived on the West Coast for a time, where she was a teacher. More recently she’s been substitute teaching and tutoring in area schools, now focusing her efforts on Sedgwick.

“I’ve been trying to give back to the community, I’ve been tutoring after school, I’ve been subbing, just trying to figure out what I can do to give back to my hometown. I went to Sedgwick Elementary, went to GSA, went to UMO, ended up teaching in Oregon and have come back to be closer to my family,” she said in a phone interview.

While the “parents at basketball practices” controversy also contributed to Webb’s decision to be on the board, she said it was a minor factor. “The hope I have is that we can work together and hold the space so that the structure of the board can be strong and supportive of the teachers and the students and the parents,” she said, adding that when protocols are followed, all voices are heard.

Cole and Webb were sworn in at the school board meeting on March 6.

In other Sedgwick voting news, the referendum for additional tuition to George Stevens Academy found 129 in favor and 62 opposed. The annual town meeting date is still yet to be determined, pending the completion of an audit.