SOUTH PORTLAND — The future of the city’s aging middle schools is a top issue for all three candidates running for two at-large seats on the Board of Education on Nov. 7.
Incumbent at-large member Mary House faces political newcomers Stanley Beretsky and Heather Johnson. At-large member Karen Callaghan didn’t seek re-election. In other school board races, incumbent Matthew Perkins is running unopposed for the District 4 seat and incumbent Elyse Tipton is running unopposed for the District 5 seat.
Also, Nicole Petit, 41, a program coordinator at the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, has launched a write-in campaign for the District 2 seat, for which there are no candidates on the ballot. District 2 includes Knightville, parts of the Ferry Village and Meeting House Hill neighborhoods, and areas on either side of Ocean Street near the Cape Elizabeth line.
All school board members are elected by voters citywide. Residents may vote now through Nov. 2 at City Hall during regular office hours, or on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at one of four polling places.
Both Mahoney Middle School, built in 1924, and Memorial Middle School, built in 1967, have significant structural, health, safety and handicapped-access deficiencies, along with asbestos throughout and inadequate heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and communication systems.
The school district is weighing its options after the Maine Department of Education announced last year that state funding is available to renovate Mahoney or build a new, consolidated middle school for both Mahoney and Memorial students for an estimated $23 million.
School officials are working through the lengthy planning process to evaluate the district’s overall building needs, including a public forum on Nov. 9 where community members will be invited to share their ideas about the project.
Parents and others have raised concerns about the possibility of renovating Mahoney but not Memorial and about where a consolidated middle school might be built in a city conscious of its varied demographics. Some people also worry that one middle school for 725 students would be too large.
Beretsky, 73, a semiretired math teacher, said the district should consider renovating both middle schools and housing grades 5 and 6 at Memorial and grades 7 and 8 at Mahoney. In his experience, he said, the emotional, social and academic needs of those two age groups are very different.
“It might save money and be socially preferable,” said Beretsky, who said he believes wholeheartedly in public education. “We need to make sure school is a place students want to come, where they can thrive and where everyone feels respected.”
House, 46, a chemist and environmental scientist, said she’s looking forward to the Nov. 9 forum to hear what community members have to say. She’s keeping an open mind, she said, until she has all the information about potential costs, program needs and community expectations.
“I need to see all that outlined to make a well-informed decision,” said House, who has two children in South Portland schools. “I want what’s best for our students.”
Johnson, 43, a business development consultant, said she believes the district is taking the proper pragmatic approach to the middle school project. She would consider the long-term impacts on learning, whether the district decides to maintain two middle schools or build one larger middle school, she said.
“With an absence of data, I don’t have any preconceived notions,” said Johnson, who has three children in the city’s schools. “You have to look at all the angles and turn it upside down before you reach a decision.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: