BANGOR, Maine — Campaign season is here again, and city voters have three candidates to choose from in this year’s race for two open seats on the Bangor School Committee.
All are newcomers, as current committee members Marc Eastman and Sarah Smiley decided not to seek re-election this year.
Here’s your guide to the candidates and what they plan to do to ensure student success, address aging infrastructure and make sure residents get the most out of the system’s $43.9 million budget:
Jennifer DeGroff, 42, is a full-time community advocate and volunteer who graduated from Bangor High School in 1991.
A former natural sciences teacher at a private school in Rhode Island and a former worker for an after-school program in Florida, DeGroff says she wants to bring home economics and shop classes back to the middle school curriculum.
Those courses, she says, help ensure that all students — whether they’re destined for college or not — are ready to become productive adults in modern society.
While she says the school system is very successful at preparing students for college, DeGroff maintains many students graduate without basic skills, like how to balance a checkbook or write a resume.
“My top priority is to ensure all students leaving Bangor High School have been prepared for life as adults,” she said.
Regarding school finances, DeGroff said she would cut expenses by asking Efficiency Maine to identify ways for the school system to reduce its utility costs.
Efficiency Maine promotes energy efficiency and the use of alternative energy in the state, primarily by offering rebates that help users purchase equipment such as high-efficiency lights and other items designed to reduce the use of electricity and fossil fuels.
DeGroff said she will pursue grants for the school system in order to purchase equipment enabling it to take advantage of wind and solar power as well.
DeGroff is a disaster responder for the American Red Cross and a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. She also volunteers for the Community Partnership for Protecting Children and serves as a judge for the Bangor High School debate team.
Brian Doore, 46, is director of assessment for the University of Maine. He currently has five children in the Bangor school system and boasts 20 years experience as a K-12 policy adviser at the state and federal level.
If elected, Doore said his top priority would be to help ensure the school system stays the course and maintains its already successful education programs.
“Bangor has an amazing gem of a school department,” he said. “It so outperforms what one would expect given our community’s [demographic] characteristics that it is a statistical outlier.”
To accomplish his goal, Doore said the school board needs to make sure every change in educational programming and assessment is backed by research that is based on what has worked in other places.
According to Doore, many school systems in the nation introduce new programs, assessments and leaders every two or three years. He says research shows, though, that those educational interventions generally aren’t successful for at least five to 10 years after implementation.
“Change for change’s sake is a very unwise education policy decision,” he said. “These are things that take years and years to take effect and to measure the impact of and so it’s important for the school committee to be cautious, to be thoughtful and reflective and to really consider the long-term implications of their decisions.”
While Doore proposes few specific changes, he said he will work to make sure the school system’s successes are better known in the community.
According to the Maine Department of Education, 53 percent of the Bangor School Department’s 3,784 students qualified for free or reduced lunch during the 2014-15 school year, compared to a statewide average of 47 percent.
Despite that statistic, the school system’s graduation rate climbed from 71 percent to 87 percent over the past six years, and its dropout rate fell from from 6.7 percent to 2.4 percent, Superintendent Betsy Webb said in May.
With degrees in business management, computer science and physics, he visits high schools throughout the state to promote science education through the Mainely Physics Roadshow in which he demonstrates science experiments, calling it “a cross between Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard.”
Sturm’s five children all attended Bangor city schools.
“Our experiences watching our children go through Bangor city schools definitely informs my understanding of how Bangor city schools can and should work,” he said.
If elected, Sturm said his top priorities will include maintaining school facilities and working to ensure school performance remains optimal while using cost-effective methods.
He proposes an analysis of existing school buildings to ensure that space is being used as efficiently as possible.
In order to maintain high levels of academic achievement, he said he would work to ensure teachers have enough instructional time, noting that non-instructional activities like school assemblies can take away from important classroom work.
Regarding school finances, Sturm vows to question budget line items that do not appear to directly address the needs of students and teachers.
“I do not support programs that have unknown educational merit, nor programs that would add tremendous costs and overhead, nor the use of expensive outside consultants,” he said. “Using existing resources and the expertise of our teachers, better and inexpensive solutions can be found within.”
Sturm has previously called for the expansion of existing Bangor school programs such as alternative education to keep students from dropping out.
Election Day for the school board and city council races is set for Nov. 3, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center on Main Street.
Absentee voting is already underway.
Voters who will be out of the city or otherwise unable to vote on Election Day can request an absentee ballot from the city clerk’s office at Bangor City Hall in person, via phone at 992-4220 or online at www.bangormaine.gov/ballotrequest.
From Oct. 26 to 29, the city also hosts early voting, where voters can submit absentee ballots from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.