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Camden school board candidates speak out on new middle school, MET building, school safety

Candidates are strong supporters of local school system and community
By Susan Mustapich | Jun 04, 2018
Lynda Chilton, incumbent, and Patrick McCafferty, are running for one seat on the SAD 28 School Board.

CAMDEN — Two candidates running for a seat on the SAD 28 School Board differ on the subjects of building a new middle school and the future of the Mary E. Taylor building.

Incumbent Lynda Chilton backs the current plan to lower construction costs by making changes to the building plan, and by using additional funds from a bond premium and other sources to bridge the gap between the project budget and the construction bid cost. Regarding the Mary E. Taylor building, she does not think repurposing the building is a good use of taxpayers' money. At the same time, she favors a public vote in November, and will support what the public decides.

Challenger Patrick McCafferty said he did not vote to build a new middle school, out of concerns about overspending and debt. He favors fixing existing buildings and investing more money in teachers and educational innovation. Regarding MET, he supports the type of proposal brought forth by developer Michael Mullin, to create a maker's space and workshop for youth and co-working space for youth and adults.

Both candidates see the Camden area as a great place to raise a family, and praise the local schools for providing quality education.

Lynda Chilton, is current SAD 28/CSD board vice-chair, and has served on the board for five years. She was appointed to fill a one-year vacancy, then elected to a one-year term. and in 2015, was elected to a three-year term.

Working on the high school Strategic Plan has been one of her most rewarding experiences. The committee of teachers, administrators, students, parents and board members, worked on the plan for nine months. Chilton saw the student members as "a testament to the quality of our education system here in this district," she said. She has also served on curriculum and finance committees.

She is proud of her efforts to bring equity to funding for high school athletics. In the past, new varsity sports were accepted with the understanding that boosters would financially support them, she said. She thought requiring booster groups to fully support varsity sports was unfair and not sustainable over the long term. She worked with the athletic director and the administration "to look at the big picture and determine ways to resolve some inequities and unintended consequences." As a result, basic costs are now covered for all sports, including referees, uniforms, transportation, and more, she said. This year, the board worked with the ice hockey boosters to assist with funding ice time at the MRC, which "was a huge burden to the parents of players," she said. She believes "every student in our school system should have equal access to the sport of their choice."

Chilton has lived in the Midcoast for 20 years with her family, and runs an advertising agency with her husband. They moved to Camden from the Washington D.C. area, with their two young daughters, she said. They had a son in Maine, who is about to graduate from high school, who has benefited from the quality schools and outdoor adventure lifestyle that is part of the Maine experience. She has taught religious education at her church, and served on the boards of Youth Arts and Peopleplace Cooperative Preschool.

Patrick McCafferty

McCafferty currently owns a local masonry business. He said he will bring to the board, "14 years of experience in banking and finance under one of America's greatest businessmen, Mr. Charles Cawley, at MBNA in Camden."

In 2012, he started a project in diplomacy to improve and modernize U.S. youth cultural exchange programs. In 2013, he was invited to share his idea with world leaders at the World Justice Forum in the Netherlands.

He grew up in Camden, where he has lived his entire life. "Now I have the privilege of raising my family here," he said. "I walked through the halls of each of these buildings from my first day of kindergarten to my high school graduation. I played little league out on the ball fields and now I get to watch my kids do the same," he said. What he most remembers from his time in school is the teachers and the aides, "who some days carried me on their shoulders," he said.

"I owe them my sincerest gratitude and now my service," he said. "I truly have the interest of this community in my heart."

Candidates were asked why they are running for the school board

Chilton is seeking re-election to continue working on education issues. "Quality schools are an economic driver to bringing new families and businesses to our community," she said. She believes "the most important thing we can do as a community is to educate the next generation of citizens."

"There is more work to do and I want to keep going. I am really looking forward to a new middle school facility and I want to continue to support that process.

Chilton intends to continue to work on equity issues in all areas. She will focus on "staying current in educational trends, making sound decisions on budgets and making sure our students graduate with everything they need to be successful," she said.

McCafferty is running for school board because he is grateful to this school system for the life he has now and would like to do his part to contribute to that system.

"It meant everything to be able to grow up in a place like this with the teachers I had and the community that surrounded me, and now I have three sons growing up in the same place," he said.

"At 36, I would like to think that I am still young and I have some horsepower to offer to help keep this place going for my kids and even make it better. The issues I intend to focus on are mental health and teacher satisfaction."

New middle school construction plan

Candidates were asked if the path forward to building the new middle school outlined by Superintendent Maria Libby is the right way to go, of if the school district should take a different direction.

Chilton helped craft the direction the board is taking to bridge the gap between the anticipated cost to build a new school and the costs of the construction bids. She is 100 percent committed to the path forward of value engineering and adjusting the loan process in a way that allows more capital to be available up front in the process.

She believes that if the community had passed the middle school construction project the first time it was put out to vote, the school would be built by now, the Mary E. Taylor building would house the central office, Zenith alternative education and adult education, and the Bus Barn would be used for buses. She believes the whole project would have cost "significantly less" than what the district is now facing in the current construction environment.

Because the first vote did not pass, "here we are with a smaller project that is costing more. Building costs go up over time, and this community can not afford to wait any longer for a new middle school," she said.

McCafferty said the path forward to a new middle school "is a really tough one and my honest answer is that I don't know yet."

He wants to get together with the other board members and school administrators "that have put so much time into the project," and collaborate with the community on a path forward.

He said he did not vote for building a new school. "I get really nervous about overspending and getting into debt," he said.  "Now I see the cost has gone up even more. I see a number like $20 million plus and think, can't we get by with fixing what we've got and invest more money in our teachers and new innovations in education?"

"I am hearing a similar sentiment from many of my peers," he said. "If I am elected, I want to really find out what the community wants and what their vision is for our school district because it seems to be evolving."

Future of the MET building

Chilton has talked to many citizens who "understood that new construction is less expensive, more energy efficient and will have a longer life span than modifying existing structures," she said. She described an "exhaustive process to research why voters rejected the first bond, in which repurposing MET was included." The process involved focus groups, municipal organizations and voters, who communicated that the original plan was too expensive and that the district should focus on building the best school facility for the least amount of money, she said

At the same time, she recognizes that "a small but passionate" group wants to repurpose the MET building. If voters are willing to spend additional money on renovating that building, she will support and facilitate that plan.

McCafferty believes MET is a beautiful building. "I have some of my fondest memories there, and being in the masonry business I truly think it is a gem."

He believes MET should either be renovated for future use by the school district or preserved and dedicated to use for innovative educational programs. He is impressed by Michael Mullin's proposal for a maker's space and workshop for youth and a co-working space for youth and adults. "I would love to have more things like that in this town," he said.

School safety

The candidates were asked what steps should be taken to improve school safety in the next six months.

Chilton said the district's three schools buildings have taken steps over the past few years to improve safety protocols and more work is being done. She points the difficulty of making "our schools more fortress-like as it goes against the inclusive, community-oriented buildings we would like our schools to be." She favors a "balance of safety improvements like buzz-in systems and limited access, with making sure the facilities are available to the broader community for their use."

Changes to the high school and new middle school buildings include a plan to add a card entrance system so that students (high school), teachers and administration will have similar ID cards as those used in hospitals and other public buildings.

The design of the new middle school building enhances study safety, by placing the public use areas in the front of the building, and the student classrooms at the back with the ability to be closed off as needed.

She notes that the district has held several safety forums to determine what improvements the public would like to see, and is working with local law enforcement to maintain a regular presence in all three schools. She believes school culture and programing can go along way to improve school safety. "We need to continue to work on our strategic plans and implementation initiatives to make sure that all our students feel included and supported," she said.

McCafferty believes the board may not come to any agreement regarding traditional security in the next six months, and calls for working on student mental health and wellness, and examining programs "that encourage kids to talk to us and let us know what is going on so we can get them help if they are struggling internally."

"If there are no existing programs that are satisfactory to the administration then I would seek to develop our own programming," he said. "I would also like to hear what the community has to say about traditional security measures like a single entrance and security personnel."

Public access to information

Both Chilton and McCafferty agree SAD 28 is doing a good job of providing public access to information. Chilton noted that SAD 28 is now live streaming school board meetings, as well as some committees including the middle school building committee. She said the district will continue "towards implementing technology that will enable the public to engage with the work of the school boards." McCafferty said access to public information is great. He highly praised the work of the SAD 28 board, and said they are doing a hard job, and the most important job in the world.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Jun 05, 2018 22:51

What is a bond premium in the context of borrowing in this case?  Is it a commitment by the district to pay a higher interest rate to lenders for the term of the bonds?  Will this apply to all bonds?  What does "adjusting the loan process" mean?  Considering these are public liabilities spanning many years, the language used to explain them needs to be more precise.

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