BREWER, Maine — The tone during Tuesday’s candidates forum at Brewer Community School’s performing arts center was amicable and agreeable, until someone asked about requiring the school superintendent to live in Brewer.
School board candidate Tyler Smith got the ball rolling when he said he personally doesn’t agree with a referendum passed 579-454 by Brewer voters last June to require Brewer’s school superintendent to live in Brewer after three years on the job.
Smith said he thought it unnecessarily limited the pool of candidates.
After 12-year board member Mark Chambers agreed, saying he thinks it “puts us in a weaker position to lure a great candidate,” incumbent City Councilor Larry Doughty bristled at the criticism.
“This argument about not being able to get someone of quality because of a residency requirement goes against what we’ve all been saying about what a great place Brewer is to live in,” Doughty countered. “Is that such an unreasonable condition? I think it’s just a red herring. It’s the board’s job to get someone who can do the job and find someone who wants to live in Brewer.”
Doughty — a 24-year city councilor who proposed the requirement — was in the minority among the other two council candidates and six board candidates on that issue, however.
Doughty is running against Mayor Jerry Goss and challenger Matthew Vachon for one of two available council seats. Six candidates — Mark Beal, Mark Farley, Kevin Forrest, Dani O’Halloran, Chambers and Smith — all are newcomers running for two school board seats.
The other four board candidates were united in their opposition to the residency requirement, as is Goss.
“I was a dissenting vote on this issue and thought it would limit the pool,” said Goss, a former Brewer High School principal. “The pool isn’t very deep. It’s not where you live, it’s what you do.”
Vachon tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.
“We should represent the people, not change a requirement voted on by the people,” Vachon said. “I think that’s disrespectful.
“It makes sense to me that we have a system where someone can live here three years before deciding on whether to stay or not.”
About 75 members of the public attended the forum to hear the candidates answer their questions on pertinent issues.
The residency issue was the flashpoint of the entire evening as candidates largely agreed on every other issue, including branding Brewer to attract more business, teachers working without contracts, special education programs, student retention, and freeing money up for a new walking/riding trail system by pressuring the Maine Department of Transportation to release funds earmarked for the project.
Other issues included school choice, curriculum offerings, and strategies for business development.
O’Halloran said she’d like to see Brewer establish a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, academy much like the one introduced by Bangor’s school system this year to attract more students as Maine heads more toward a school choice system.
Regarding economic development, Goss suggested trying to encourage the building of a hotel and conference center in Brewer, perhaps near the CancerCare of Maine facility on Whiting Hill Road.
Doughty talked about the demolition of Washington Street School and its conversion into a public recreation and parks area with two more sports fields.
Several candidates pointed to the development of the city’s new industrial park.
A couple of board candidates suggested revamping or adding to the school system’s curriculum structure.
Chambers suggested establishing a core and/or co-op program by teaming up with an outside partner such as The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. Farley suggested combining previously separate classes such as math and industrial arts to offer a more practical teaching approach. Forrest proposed having guidance officials provide more learning alternatives to better reach certain students.